So you are a criminal defendant in Texas, and it’s been a few years since you were arrested, you remember hearing about a “right to speedy trial” and want to know if your case can be dismissed. Maybe, that depends on the trial judge. In Texas, we allow the State to appeal dismissed cases, which is weird, but whatever. Defendants can also appeal a denial of a speedy trial motion to dismiss. So you need to know how an appellate court will review a speedy trial claim.
What’s the law on Speedy Trials in Texas?
The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the accused in a criminal prosecution the right to a speedy trial. See U.S. CONST. amend. VI. The right to a speedy trial attaches once a person is either arrested or charged. Cantu v. State, 253 S.W.3d 273, 281 (Tex. Crim. App. 2008). A speedy trial claim is analyzed on a case-by-case basis by weighing and balancing the following factors: (1) length of delay, (2) the reason for the delay, (3) the defendant’s assertion of his right, and (4) the prejudice inflicted on the defendant by the delay. Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514, 530 (1972). These “are related factors, which must be considered together along with any other relevant circumstances.” Zamorano v. State, 84 S.W.3d 643, 648 (Tex. Crim. App. 2002) (citing Barker, 407 U.S. at 533). “No one factor possesses ‘talismanic qualities,’ thus courts must ‘engage in a difficult and sensitive balancing process’ in each individual case.” Id. (quoting Barker, 407 U.S. at 533).
Sounds complicated, but on appeal, the courts will look at each factor independently, and then bring it all together at the end to reach a decision.
Length of Delay-
The first Barker factor involves a double inquiry: “A court must consider whether the delay
is sufficiently long to even trigger a further analysis under the Barker factors, and if it is, then thevcourt must consider to what extent it stretches beyond this triggering length.” Hopper v. State, 520 S.W.3d 915, 924 (Tex. Crim. App. 2017). That second inquiry is significant to the speedy trial analysis because “the presumption that pretrial delay has prejudiced the accused intensifies over time.” Zamorano, 84 S.W.3d at 649. “Thus, any speedy trial analysis depends first upon whether the delay is more than ‘ordinary’; if so, the longer the delay beyond that which is ordinary, the more prejudicial that delay is to the defendant.” Id. “In general, courts deem delay approaching one year to be unreasonable enough to trigger the Barker enquiry.” Dragoo v. State, 96 S.W.3d 308, 313 (Tex. Crim. App. 2003). The length of delay is measured from the time the defendant is arrested or formally accused, whichever occurs first. Id.
So how long is too long for a delay?
In Zamorano, the court of criminal appeals stated that a delay of two years and ten months
between the defendant’s arrest and the hearing on his speedy trial motion in a DWI case was
“sufficiently lengthy” to trigger an analysis of the other Barker factors. Zamorano, 84 S.W.3d at 643. Further, in that same case, that court stated a “nearly four-year delay” between the defendant’s arrest and his plea hearing “stretched well beyond the bare minimum needed to trigger judicial examination of the claim” and therefore the first Barker factor weighed “heavily against the State” in that case. Id.