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Orange County Bar Association

Speedy Trial Rights in California

Law Offices of William W. Bruzzo

Most people are aware that they have a right to a speedy trial guaranteed by the Constitution. However, few people understand how this right works as a practical matter. The best way to analyze speedy trial rights is to break down cases by misdemeanor and felony.

Misdemeanor cases affected by the speedy trial clause of the US and California Constitution are controlled by the case of Serna v. Superior Court (1985) 219 Cal Rptr 420. The typical situation that deals with a speedy trial right is when a Defendant is arrested for a crime but the District Attorney does not file by the time indicated on the notice to appear. Then, either the Defendant never receives the letter with the new court date or ignores it. Sometime after a year post-arrest the Defendant gets picked up for a new crime or traffic matter or some other random police contact. Once a year has passed since the crime was committed and the crime is filed as a misdemeanor the speedy trial right for misdemeanors in California arises. Both the Federal Constitution and the California Constitution play a role. Because more then a year has passed, it is presumed that the Defendant has suffered prejudice. As such, the burden shifts to the Prosecutor to justify the delay. The court at that point considers the reason for the delay and also weighs the factors laid out in Barker v. Wingo, (1972) 407 U.S. 514, 532, 33 L. Ed. 2d 101, 118: (i) to prevent oppressive pretrial incarceration; (ii) to minimize anxiety and concern of the accused; and (iii) to limit the possibility that the defense will be impaired. As a practical matter on misdemeanors, it is rare when the Prosecution has done more then send a letter to the last known address. As such, if more then a year has passed on a misdemeanor, speedy trial motions are usually granted depending on the jurisdiction.

Felony cases are more difficult to win on the speedy trial issue. Part of this is because more time must pass as the minimum statute of limitation on a felony is at least three years or longer as opposed to a misdemeanor where allegations can only be brought within one year. People v. Martinez (2000) 94 Cal Rptr.2d 381 is generally considered the controlling California case on speedy trial issues for felonies. Felonies themselves must be split into two different types for speedy trial consideration.

  1. Pre-preliminary Hearing Cases: In these felony cases because the case does not end in a trial only a hearing the Federal Constitutional safeguards are not covered. Thus, there is no presumed prejudice, actual prejudice must be shown and the Wingo, factors are considered.
  2. Post- Pre-liminary hearing cases: The rationale for Martinez and Serna, would seem to indicate that prejudice is presumed for felonies post-preliminary hearing since the Federal standard would apply, however, the precedent is unclear here. Also some cases have held that actual prejudice will only be considered after trial which seems to indicate there is no presumed prejudice.

Will Bruzzo has managed to get many cases dismissed on the basis of a violation of the speedy trial right.

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