Right to a Speedy Trial in Colorado
Every Defendant charged with a crime in Colorado is entitled to a Speedy Trial. CRS 18-1-405 sets parameters and guidelines to bring an incarcerated defendant to trial. The purpose of a speedy trial is to prevent unnecessary delays in prosecution. But the ability to have a case dismissed and a defendant released ensures that the State complies with this rule. So what is the time limit?
Time Limits to Bring a Defendant to Trial
The State has to bring a defendant to trial within six months from the date of entering a not guilty plea. If the defendant is not brought to trial, then the defendant will be released from custody. And the pending charges shall be dismissed. So if the state misses the speedy trial deadline, then a defendant’s charges are dismissed.
Once the charges are dismissed, the state cannot prosecute the defendant for that charge or any criminal charge related to the same “criminal episode”. In other words, the state can’t charge the defendant with the same crime or a different crime related the reason the defendant was arrested.
Appeal Restarts the Clock
If a defendant is tried and convicted of a crime, but the case is reversed on appeal, then the state must start any new trial within six months of receiving the order from the appellate court. So if the defendant beats the appeal, then the state only has six months to start over.
Defendant’s Conduct Can Extend Speedy Trial
The defendant’s conduct or requests can extend speedy trial. For instance, continuances and failure to appear.
If the defendant moves for a continuance after the court sets the case for trial, then the speedy trial is automatically extended for six months from the continuance. But that’s only if the court grants the continuance.
Failure to Appear
If the defendant fails to appear for trial, then speedy trial is extended to six months after the defendant’s next appearance.
Obviously, the rule is set up this way to prevent a defendant from tactically continuing or failing to appear. Otherwise, a defendant could simply continue the case or fail to appear and the state would run out of time. And that would result in cases being dismissed and defendants being released through no fault or wrongdoing of the state.
If the defendant is voluntarily absent or unavailable then speedy is also tolled. The state gets a benefit here though. If the state knows where a defendant is, but they can’t get the defendant to trial then speedy is tolled.
But what if the State continues?
If the state moves for a continuance after the court sets the case for trial, then speedy trial is generally not extended. This prevents the state from prolonging the case, or keeping a defendant in custody for unreasonable amounts of time.
But if the defendant or the defendant’s attorney expressly agrees to the continuance, then speedy trial is extended. A defendant or his attorney can also formally waive speedy trial by filing a written waiver. This is a procedural and tactical measure that allows both sides to potentially resolve the case. This tactic has to be fully analyzed to ensure it is for the benefit of the defendant. Sometimes the state will attempt to get a waiver in order to put a case together. In any event, if there is an agreement to waive speedy trial, then the new deadline is extended for the same period as the continuance.
Moreover, the state can attempt to extend speedy trial deadlines by three months without the defendant’s consent if:
- Material evidence is unavailable. If material evidence is unavailable, the prosecutor has exercised due diligence to get it, and there are reasonable grounds to believe the state can get it at a later date; or
- Felony Cases. A continuance can be granted for the state if exception circumstances of the case require the extension. The Court, however, has to enter specific findings to the justification.
Dismissal is Not Automatic
In order to get the case dismissed, the defendant must move for a dismissal prior to trial. Additionally, this motion must be before any pretrial motions set for hearing immediately before the trial or prior to the entry of a guilty plea or it is waived. In other words, if a defendant doesn’t act timely then s/he loses the ability to dismiss on speedy trial grounds.
The defendant, and the attorney, need to be aware of the speedy trial deadlines. If a court sets the trial date outside of the speedy trial time limit, then the defendant has to object. If there is no objection then speedy trial is waived.
Speedy Trial Can Be Tolled
Speedy trial is tolled for issues related to the defendant or other procedural reasons such as any of the following:
- Incompetency, Illness, or Disability: if a defendant is incompetent, unable to appear because of illness or disability, or is under observation or examination for mental condition, then speedy trial deadlines will be tolled.
- Appeals: Speedy Trial will be tolled if either side files an interlocutory appeal.
- Codefendants: If a defendant’s trial is combined with a codefendant’s trial, then speedy trial is tolled. But the codefendant’s speedy trial time must not have expired and there must be good cause for not granting a severance. But the state can’t resurrect an expired speedy trial for one defendant by adding him to a codefendant’s case.
- Mistrials: If the state causes a mistrial, then the delay caused by the mistrial is added to a maximum of three months per mistrial.
- Defendant’s Delay: if the defendant delays the case, then speedy trial is extended by the time of the defendant’s delay.
- Transfer. If the court transfers the case, then speedy trial can be extended.
Why Should You Hire an Experienced Trial Lawyer?
Speedy trial is a highly technical rule that has many pitfalls. Inexperience can lead to waivers of speedy trial violations, which can easily mean the difference between a dismissal of all charges and a conviction. Additionally, experience is the best guide whether to agree with the state to a waiver of speedy trial. Stipulating in the wrong case can result in a harsh conviction over a potential favorable plea offer.
I have successfully presented and argued motions to dismiss based on the State’s failure to comply with Speedy Trial rules. My tactical use of the State’s violations of Speedy Trial rules has resulted in my clients being released from jail and their charges dropped.
If you or someone you know is facing a speedy trial issue in Colorado, Contact me immediately for a review consultation. Together we can present your best defense to the State!
Need Legal Help?