Court of Criminal Appeals Sides with Defendant, Finding a Violation of His Speedy Trial Rights

In a recent case coming out of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the defendant claimed that he was denied his constitutional right to a speedy trial. He was originally convicted of murder and tampering with evidence, and he argued that too much time passed between the charge and the conviction. While the court originally found it was unable to review the defendant’s claim, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issued an opinion telling the lower court it had to make a decision one way or the other, sending the case back down for review.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, the defendant was charged and convicted, but he appealed quickly on the grounds that he was denied the right to a speedy trial. Under both the U.S. and Texas Constitutions, an individual is guaranteed the right to have a “speedy” public trial. While the word “speedy” is up for interpretation, courts look to see whether an unreasonable amount of time passed between the charge and conviction when analyzing a speedy trial claim.
Here, the defendant said he waited too long for his trial to take place, and thus that the guilty conviction should be vacated. Originally, the appellate court disagreed and kept the verdict in place. The defendant, however, filed a petition asking for a review of the appeals court’s decision.

The Decision

The reviewing court looked at the appellate court’s decision to determine whether or not it was correct in denying the defendant’s claim. Apparently, said the reviewing court, the court of appeals had denied the claim because the lower court had failed to conduct a “speedy trial hearing.” The appellate thought it did not have enough evidence to decide the case since there was no hearing specifically on this issue in the lower court. Therefore, the court had denied the defendant’s request.

According to the Court of Criminal Appeals, however, there is no requirement under the law that a lower court conduct a speedy trial hearing. The only requirement is that the higher court has access to important information like the length and reason for the delay. Here, the court of appeals had access to the necessary information. It thus could have (and should have) ruled on the defendant’s appeal. Therefore, the court sided with the defendant and remanded the case back down to the court of appeals so that it could issue a proper decision.

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