Your Right to a Speedy Trial

A man arrested on criminal charges in Texas

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A man convicted of murder and tampering with evidence in 2016 complained on appeal that he was denied his right to a speedy trial. The appeals court that reviewed his case found that a meaningful review was not possible due to the trial court’s failure to “conduct a meaningful hearing.”

Ultimately, the defendant prevailed, and the reviewing appeals court vacated the appeals court’s judgment regarding the man’s speedy trial and remanded the case back to them.

If you have been charged with a crime, you have rights that are well worth defending, and an experienced Killeen criminal defense attorney is standing by to help.

The Relevant Facts

In this recent case, Lance Taylor was arrested on a charge of murder and a count of tampering with evidence and was sentenced to life behind bars for both first-degree felony offenses. Taylor maintained that his right to a speedy trial was trampled. His argument was based on the following timeline for his case:

  • Taylor was arrested for the two offenses on June 20, 2016. From the time of his arrest through an array of status hearings, Taylor remained behind bars.

  • At one of the early status hearings on February 2, 2017, Taylor reported that he had already invoked his right to a speedy trial. Taylor’s counsel, however, explained that the proposed extension was due to both sides agreeing to a new date based on a mutual need for more time. A new trial date was set for March 27, 2017.

  • On February 27, 2017, Taylor filed a motion for a speedy trial without his attorney’s assistance – or pro se – but did not request a hearing on the motion. There is no ruling on his pro se motion on the record.

  • On March 16, 2017, the prosecution filed a motion for continuance based on its wait for crucial DNA evidence – requesting a 90-day reset of the March 27 trial date.

  • On March 29, 2017, Taylor’s counsel filed a motion for a speedy trial, requesting that it be scheduled as soon as possible. Again, no hearing was requested, and there is no ruling on the record regarding this motion.

  • On May 1, 2017, there was a status hearing in which Taylor’s counsel approved an extension of the status hearing for another 30 days. Taylor made the following statement about the hearing: ”It's overwhelming. Where's my speedy trial? My constitutional rights are being violated freely.”

  • On June 1, 2017, Taylor’s counsel requested a trial for some time in the middle of August due to his need for more time to read the massive record he had received from the state. A trial date was set for August 14.

  • On August 8, 2017, the state filed a motion for continuance based on a critical witness’s unavailability, which morphed into a joint motion based on the defense’s need to work with a cell phone data expert – leading to a tentative trial date of October 23.

  • On October 19, 2017, the state informed the trial court that – based on a vital witness disappearing – it was filing for a continuance, which was ultimately denied.

  • On October 23, 2017, the state filed a verified motion for continuance based on its inability to locate the critical witness, and the trial was reset for December 4, 2017.

  • On November 17, 2017, the state informed the trial court that the witness had been located, and he was ordered to wear a GPS tracking device until his trial appearance.

  • On November 20, 2017, both sides announced being ready for trial, but Taylor’s counsel informed the court that Taylor had just undergone nasal surgery that led to a complication requiring hospitalization. The trial was reset for January 8, 2018.

  • On December 4, 2017, at the status hearing, Taylor requested that his appointed counsel be replaced and that he be allowed to proceed pro se – based on his trial counsel’s unresponsiveness and refusal to cooperate – along with his failure to share discovery. The state objected to his request.

From this point on, there was considerable back and forth regarding whether Taylor was capable of defending himself pro se and whether he understood that obtaining new counsel would delay his trial date considerably.

The set trial date of May 7, 2018, came and went with little mention in the record regarding the delay and commenced on May 22, 2018. At trial, Taylor was convicted of both charges.

The Appeals Court’s Findings

On appeal, Taylor claimed his right to a speedy trial was denied. As mentioned, the appeals court determined that it was unable to successfully review this matter due to the trial court’s failure to engage in a meaningful hearing – finding that the balancing test provided by the Barker factors requires a full development of the facts, which didn’t happen in this case. These Barker Factors (a test used by the state to determine if a defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights have been violated) include these four considerations:

  1. The length of the delay

  2. The reason for the delay

  3. The defendant’s assertion of their right to a speedy trial

  4. Any prejudice the defendant experiences as a result

As such, the circumstances involved must be carefully assessed and balanced in relation to one another before the matter of a speedy trial can be adequately assessed.

Petition for Discretionary Review

Taylor filed a petition for discretionary review, claiming that the appeals court erred in their decision not to conduct a review. The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas agreed with Taylor’s assessment.

The higher appeals court deemed dismissing a case on the grounds of a speedy trial without first conducting a “meaningful hearing” in error. Instead, the Barker factors must be weighed and balanced against one another in order to reach a conclusion.

The higher court found that the appeals court misunderstood the applicable case law – wrongfully concluding that there is a prototypical speedy trial hearing that must be conducted prior to an appellate court weighing in on the matter.

Instead, the relevant information must be gleaned from the record. This means determining the length of the delay in the case at hand, the reasons for the delay, the defendant’s assertion of their rights, and the prejudice – if any – they experienced as a result.

If you are unsure how these laws relate to your case, it is best to consult with a skilled Killeen criminal defense lawyer. He or she will know how to best protect your right to a speedy trial and present your strongest possible case.

Applying the Barker Factors

In Taylor’s case, the higher court found that the record addresses the following three Barker factors:

  • The length of the delay, which was nearly two years from the time of Taylor’s arrest

  • The specific reasons for the delay, which included the state losing its key witness

  • The defendant’s assertion of the right to a speedy trial, which is well documented in this case

While the record may not demonstrate the type of prejudice Taylor suffered, this does not prevent the appellate court from weighing the involved factors.

As such, the reviewing appellate court found that the lower court should have implemented the Barker balancing test. The case was remanded back to the lower court for proceedings consistent with the higher court’s findings.

Your Right to a Speedy Trial

The Sixth Amendment guarantees us the right to a speedy trial along with additional comprehensive protections:

  • The right to an impartial jury in the appropriate jurisdiction

  • The right to be informed of the nature and cause of the charge brought

  • The right to confront any witnesses against you

  • The right to obtain witnesses in your favor via compulsory process

  • The right to the assistance of counsel

These rights are important in protecting you when you face criminal charges. If you feel that your rights have been violated, speak with a skilled Killeen criminal defense lawyer right away.

Undue Delays in Bringing Charges

The Constitution includes a variety of measures that are designed to protect defendants from undue delays – rather than having a blanket requirement of timely prosecution.

For example, the Due Process Clause represents a basic safeguard that helps to ensure the government doesn’t implement significant delays in filing criminal charges. However, various statutes of limitations are the first line of defense on this matter.

The Speedy Trial Act of 1974

The Speedy Trial Act of 1974 implements a 100-day maximum in relation to the period of trial delay – subject to a range of exclusions – in all federal and district cases.

In essence, this means that the government does not have the legal right to lock people up for an unreasonable amount of time before trying them. You can’t be held indefinitely simply because it is more convenient for the state – you must be released within a reasonable amount of time or brought to trial.

The Barker Ruling

The Supreme Court’s landmark decision in the 1972 Barker case found that the requirements related to speedy trials were too vague to be effective beyond generalizations. As such, it determined that a functional analysis was required.

This ruling translated to courts being required – on a case-by-case basis – to carefully consider the circumstances and specifics of the case in relation to four relevant factors when evaluating speedy trial claims – rather than implementing predetermined time limits.

When a court finds that a defendant’s right to a speedy trial has been violated, the remedy is dismissal of the charges with prejudice, which means the matter is permanently dismissed – and there is no lesser remedy available. In other words, courts must take claims involving the right to a speedy trial very seriously.

The Barker Case

In Barker v. Wingo, an elderly couple was murdered in their Kentucky home on July 20, 1958. The arrests of Silas Manning and Willie Barker were made within hours, and they were both indicted for murder on September 15, 1958.

Because Manning invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself, the state chose to try him first – believing he would testify against Barker upon his own conviction.

Sixteen Continuances

When Manning was brought to trial on October 23, 1958, the state obtained the first of 16 continuances in Barker’s case. From this point, it took another four years before Manning was finally convicted of the second murder at his sixth trial in December of 1962. Under the recommendation of his counsel, Barker did not object to the first 11 continuances. From here, the following occurred:

  • In February of 1962, Barker’s counsel moved to dismiss on the grounds of the Sixth Amendment – in the face of a twelfth continuance.

  • The court rejected the motion, and Barker’s counsel failed to object to the state’s thirteenth and fourteenth continuances.

  • When the fifteenth and sixteenth continuances came along, Barker’s legal team again objected.

  • The continuances were both granted, and the final court date was set for October 9, 1963 – more than five years after Barker’s original arrest.

  • Barker’s counsel made a final unsuccessful motion to dismiss the case on the grounds of the defendant’s right to a speedy trial.

The Journey to Barker’s Conviction

At trial, Manning was the state’s chief witness. Barker was ultimately convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison, but it took five years for this to happen. The prosecution’s reason for delaying Barker’s trial was its desire to convict Manning.

Once Manning could no longer incriminate himself, his testimony against Barker assured Barker’s conviction. In the end, it took six separate trials to convict Manning of both murders, which led to a five-year delay of Barker’s trial.

In the meantime, Barker spent 10 months in jail prior to posting bond and gaining his release. Barker remained free throughout the remaining years of Manning’s case. Barker was likely gambling on Manning being acquitted, which led to him not objecting to the first 11 continuances.

Although Barker may have been denied a speedy trial, he may have also benefited from the delay in all the following ways:

  • Witnesses’ memories faded

  • Witnesses became unavailable

  • The prosecution weakened

These factors contributed to the Supreme Court’s ruling in this seminal case. The Court upheld Barker’s conviction by implementing the four factors in the balancing test and ultimately determining that they weighed against him.

Seek the Legal Guidance of an Experienced Killeen Criminal Defense Attorney Today

Brett Pritchard at The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard in Killeen, Texas, is a savvy criminal defense attorney who is committed to unleashing the full strength of his tremendous experience and legal skill in fierce support of your legal rights and in focused pursuit of your case’s optimal outcome. Learn more by contacting us online or calling us at (254) 781-4222 today.

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