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Protecting your right to a speedy trial

Posted on June 29th, 2016

Recently a client from California was charged with a very serious crime. Over a decade ago, he left his girlfriend to live with family in California. Since that time, he had been living and working with little or no contact with his ex-girlfriend. Unbeknownst to him and shortly after moving away, his girlfriend’s daughter made serious sexual allegations against him. Aside from taking a police report and issuing a warrant, the local police department did nothing to try and find him. They never followed up with the family or the child. They did not look for any leads as to my client’s whereabouts or made any effort to locate him.

By the time he was arrested, much of the evidence that could have exonerated him had been destroyed. The child’s medical records no longer existed as her clinic closed. Her school had also closed and those records no longer existed. The place where she received counseling had been shut and those records were destroyed. Even the Children and Youth investigation records and police records had been destroyed due to closures over the last 10 years. My client was in a very difficult position of facing a trial where it was his word against his accuser. All the evidence that could have been used to exonerate him had been destroyed. Through no fault of his own, the evidence that could clear his name was gone. Ten years had passed and the police had done nothing.

These are the reasons why the United States Constitution and the Pennsylvania Constitution ensure that all defendants have the right to a speedy trial. I promptly filed what is called a Rule 600 Motion invoking my client’s constitutional rights to a speedy trial. This rule requires that the Commonwealth bring an individual to trial within 365 days. The only exceptions are for excludable or extendable time. To make use of this exception, the district attorney’s office must show that they and their agents, the police department, acted with the due diligence in trying to bring the case to trial and that the delay was not their fault.

After filing the motion, the judge granted a hearing. And after a rigorous cross-examination of the police officer, it was revealed that he did little to advance or prosecute this case. It was clear that all exculpatory evidence had been destroyed and that my client was put in a very prejudicial position—looking at spending the rest of his life in jail. The charges were serious and the judge was hesitant to dismiss such serious charges due to negligence of the police officer. Briefs were filed and further legal arguments were made. In the end the judge concluded that my client’s constitutional rights had been violated and all charges were appropriately dismissed. This is a fine example of the Constitution being protected in our courts, and where the police are being held accountable for their actions and occasional inaction.