What Does My Right to Speedy Trial Mean?

In April of 2013, the New Jersey Supreme Court comprehensively addressed the issue of speedy trial in State v. Cahill.

This opinion begins by noting the United States Supreme Court, in 1972, established a balancing test for speedy trial assertions. The balancing test includes four factors: length of the delay, reason for the delay, assertion of the right by a defendant, and prejudice to the defendant.

In its opinion, the New Jersey Supreme Court reaffirmed its adherence to the four-factor Barker test, while holding that the “facts of an individual case are the best indicators of whether a right to a speedy trial has been violated.”

Does Speedy Trial Right Apply in Municipal Court?

The court also made it clear that the right to a speedy trial “extends to quasi-criminal matters pending in the municipal courts.”  The court held that Rule 7:8-5 restates the speedy trial principles of Rule 3:25-3 for use in municipal court.

In its comprehensive opinion, the court declined to “adopt a rigid bright-line try-or-dismiss rule,” noting that a hard-and-rule on timing “may lead to seemingly disparate results.” The court also rejected a demand-waiver rule requiring the defendant to demand a speedy trial, else waive the right. Again, the court called for a case-by-case analysis in light of the four factors.

Factors

With regard to the first factor, length of delay, the court “held that a delay may be presumptively prejudicial and such a delay will trigger consideration of the other factors. The length of the delay that may be considered presumptively prejudicial depends on the circumstances of the individual case, including the nature of the charged offense.”

With regard to the defendant’s assertion of the right, “the government is required to identify the reason for the delay. If the government deliberately delayed the trial to hamper the defense, this factor will weigh heavily in the defendant's favor.  A defendant does not have an obligation to assert his right to a speedy trial because he is under no obligation to bring himself to trial … the assertion of a right to a speedy trial in the face of continuing delays is a factor entitled to strong weight when determining whether the state has violated the right.”

The court went on to say that it is the “State's obligation to prosecute and do so in a manner consistent with defendant's right to a speedy trial. Failure to assert the right is a factor that must be considered in any analysis of an asserted speedy trial violation. Assertion of the right, however, is not dispositive of the merits of the claim and is certainly not a pre-condition to the invocation of a defendant's right to a speedy trial.”

With regard to prejudice to the defendant, the court held that “prejudice is assessed in the context of the interests the right is designed to protect. Those interests include prevention of oppressive incarceration, minimization of anxiety attributable to unresolved charges, and limitation of the possibility of impairment of the defense.”

That said, the court also held that a “speedy trial violation can be established without evidence of prejudice. Some authorities even suggest that every unresolved case carries with it some measure of anxiety.”