What is a “speedy trial”?
A “speedy trial” does not refer to a trial which occurs quickly, rather it is a both a constitutional and a procedural right to be taken to trial within a certain amount of time and to seek discharge from criminal prosecution for the State’s failure to do so in a timely fashion (see the 6th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 16 of the Florida Constitution and Rule 3.191, Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure – “Fla.R.Crim.P.”). Your right to a speedy trial is separate and distinct from other time limitations including the Statute of Limitations (SOL) which will be discussed below.
What are the speedy trial time frames?
Your speedy trial “clock” begins to tick from either the moment that you are taken into custody or are formally charged with a crime, whichever occurs first (this is referred to as “speedy trial without demand” and is found in Rule 3.191(a), Fla.R.Crim.P.). In the case of misdemeanor offenses the State has 90 days to commence trial and in the event of a felony the State has 175 days to do so. Your right to a speedy trial without demand is contingent upon two things: 1) The State, for whatever reason(s), being negligent in meeting the time requirements; and 2) Your NOT being legally responsible for causing any delay. If your rights under 3.191(a) are blown you can always file a “written demand for speedy trial” requiring the State to take you trial in no more than 50 days (see 3.191(b), Fla.R.Crim.P.) from the date of filing.
What is the effect of filing a “written demand for speedy trial”?
There are significant consequences for starting that 50 day countdown by filing a written demand for speedy trial, including binding both yourself and the State to the trial process, which could begin in as few as 5 days from the date of filing the demand. The act of filing the demand is considered a statement that the Defendant is “ready” for trial. Rule 3.191(g), Fla.R.Crim.P. says that “A demand for speedy trial shall be considered a pleading that the accused is available for trial, has diligently investigated the case, and is prepared or will be prepared for trial within 5 days.” Once t is filed the demand cannot be withdrawn by the Defendant (unless either the State agrees or the defense puts forth sufficient “good cause”) and no further formal discovery can be conducted by the Defendant. All you can do is sit and wait for trial to commence in no more than 50 days.
What happens if 90, 175 or 50 days pass without a trial commencing?
With or without a demand, unfortunately speedy trial provisions do not result in an automatic dismissal; instead they require further action by the Defendant and they provide for a “window of recapture” for the State. Rule 3.191(h) requires you to file a “Notice of Expiration” (“NOE”) after the speedy trial time has passed. If the Court is satisfied that that the NOE is well-taken then a trial date must commence (“commence” means that either a jury panel is sworn or a Bench Trial begins), for simplicity’s sake, within 15 days. If 15 days pass after a well-taken NOE has been filed then the Defendant can file a “Motion for Discharge” and, if that is also well-taken, then the case will be dismissed and the State will be forever barred from taking that Defendant to trial for that case.
Are there any exceptions to the speedy trial rule?
As with virtually everything in the law, yes, there are exceptions to the Rule. Acts of God (things like hurricanes, etc.) can “toll” (suspend) the ticking of “legal time”, as can various “exceptional circumstances” (as outlined in Rule 3.191(l), Fla.R.Crim.P.) such as unexpected illness, incapacity or even certain extraordinary practical circumstances (such as an unusually complex prosecution). Still, being not only a procedural Rule but also a Constitutional mandate (both state and federally), trial Judges are not inclined to “toy” with the Rule and appellate Judges are quick to reverse trial Judges who do so. (As an aside, prosecutors are specifically precluded from dismissing charges and refilling them later to avoid the speedy trial rule (see Rule 3.191(o), Fla.R.Crim.P.).
What is the Statute of Limitations (“SOL”)?
Unlike speedy trial, the SOL is not a constitutional right. Instead, it is a potential statutory limitation on the State’s ability to bring charges and to prosecute a given Defendant in a given case. It is a time frame within which the State must charge someone with commission of a crime; it is not a time frame in which a trial must be commenced. Generally the SOL is broken down by degrees of crimes (with few exceptions not by specific crimes) and is found at Florida Statute 775.15. In Florida, the event of a 2nd degree misdemeanor the SOL is 1 year, for a 1st degree misdemeanor its 2 years, for either a 2nd or 3rd degree felony the SOL is 3 years, for a 1st degree felony the SOL is 4 years and both capital and felonies punishable by life imprisonment have no SOL and can be commenced at any time.
When does the SOL start to tick and are there any exceptions?
The SOL starts to “run” the day after the crime is committed (“committed” meaning that the offense is completed) but the SOL can be “tolled” (stopped / suspended) for a variety of reasons. For example, if a warrant is issued, or if the Defendant absents her/himself from Florida (meaning that s/he has “no reasonably ascertainable place of abode or work within the state”) then the SOL is tolled (meaning that, for purposes of the SOL time, as measured by the SOL, literally stands still). Also, some offenses are, by their nature more, difficult to discover and the SOL provisions are tailored for them. For example, in fraud offenses the SOL doesn’t start until a year after discovery of the crime (up to a max of 3 years) and in some sex crimes (like a victim under 18) the SOL begins either when the victim turns 18 or first reports the offense.
What is the remedy for a SOL violation:
As the SOL is a statutory limitation on prosecution it serves as a sort of affirmative defense to the charge. In the event of a SOL violation the Defendant essentially says to the Court that, regardless of whether or not the crime was committed and the Defendant committed it, because the State failed to file charges within the statutorily permitted time frame it is precluded from doing so at that late date and, as a consequence, that the Court “must” dismiss the case.
Are there any other time issues that I should know about in Florida?
Yes, there are many, and I hope to get to them in another Legal Guide shortly. I intend to discuss the time frames relative to pre-trial detention, bond and discovery issues in not-too-distant-future Legal Guides. Until then remember that the criminal defense lawyer is Liberty’s Last Champion!