Saturday, March 30, 2013

You get a speedy trial, you get s speedy trial...EVERYONE gets a speedy trial!!

What would happen if every defendant demanded a speedy trial all on the same day?

Currently the judicial system in Minnesota works on the premise that most defendants are willing to give up their constitutional right to a speedy trial. With the exception being people unable to post bail, that premise is usually true. But what if it weren't?

It's an interesting question. No part of the system is adequately funded. Not the court itself, not the court admin, not the PDs, not the prosecutors, and not the crime lab. There isn't enough money to fully staff most of these areas. We all do the best we can with what we have and we make it work. But if every defendant demanded a speedy trial, the system would explode.
In MN, once a defendant makes a speedy demand, the court must have their trial within 60 days. The exception to this rule would be if a person is in custody on a misdemeanor offense-then the time drops down to 10 days (the max sentence on a MN msd is 90 days and our state says you do 2/3rds of your time, which would mean if someone had to wait 60 days in jail on a msd, they would have served the max sentence they could get if convicted. So, they made it 10 days for a speedy msd trial).

Best case scenario: 60 days is 8 weeks. If the trials are very quick, a court might be able to squeeze in 2 trials a week. Assuming 2 trials/week that is 16 speedy trials per judge. In the rural counties, the average number of judges is 2-3. So, if every judge was presiding over speedy trials, that would be 32-48 trials that would be within the speedy time frame.

I have quite a few more cases than 48. So does every public defender I know. Some have close to 200.

Of course, the rules provide that the speedy trial date can be continued for another 60, so that it starts within 120 days of the demand for a speedy trial, but that can only happen if there is good cause. You know what is not considered good cause, according to the MN Supreme Court and Court of Appeals? Court schedule congestion. "Too busy with too many cases" doesn't fly, says the Courts. So, that option wouldn't be available.

So, we are a three judge county and we can do 48 trials in 60 days. Assuming they are quick and uncomplicated. What happens to all the other cases? The ones that can't be held within 60 days? Those people can start filing motions to have the case dismissed. They probably won't get granted, at least not on day 61, but if they delay is too long they will. And if they are in jail waiting for the trial and they don't get a speedy, they are entitled to be released without posting any bail.

Another side effect would be that no other type of case would be heard. No civil cases would be able to be on the calendar because every judge would constantly be presiding over trials.

And, since the crime lab is underfunded and back logged, unless they somehow magically had enough time and people to do all the needed testing, it's inevitable that on some cases, the state wouldn't have test results back from the forensic crime lab in time for trial. There would be a real possibility that they would show up for trial without DNA results, fingerprint analysis, drug testing, etc. completed. Which makes proving cases beyond a reasonable doubt very hard, especially when the defense attorney hammers on the lack of forensic evidence in the case (which we do when we can. I've won cases at trial on that argument and when we talked to the jury, the lack of testing despite the availability of material to test sunk the state's case). The lab can currently accommodate requests to rush a particular test because not everything is speedy. But what if everything was? They couldn't possibly keep up with the demand. No area of the justice system could.

That is the fatal flaw in the whole thing...we operate on the assumption that a vast majority of defendants will waive their speedy trial rights. Legislatures fund the system without realizing that, should people choose to demand that the government abide by their speedy trial right, the entire system would collapse under the weight of complying. Sure, some metro areas have more than 3 judges and could handle more trials in that 60 days, but the number of judges a county has its based on how many cases it has. So while more trials could be heard in 60 days, more cases would not be heard in those counties since they just have more on a regular basis.

It's dangerous to fund a system based on everyone giving up their speedy trial right. We should fund ALL areas of the judicial system with the assumption that people won't give up that right, to ensure we could handle the volume if they don't. Right now, it would be too easy to cause a widespread systemic failure, simply by asking that the judicial system honor the constitutional right to a speedy trial. That is a very precarious way to balance the system.

It has not ever happened (yet) but it is certainly interesting to think about what would occur if it did.

To make the hypothetical even more messed up, imagine what would happen if everyone demanded a speedy trial AND the PDs office had to furlough every PD for a few months because they didn't have funding. So, no attorneys for all these speedy trials... I think the technical term for that would be a "clusterf*ck."

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:05 PM

    good article DPgirl....