Speedy Trial Rights in Probation Revocation Cases

It’s strange to talk about speedy “trials” in probation revocation cases, because a probation revocation hearing is nothing like a criminal jury trial. For example, in probation cases your only audience is the judge, you have no right to a jury, and the burden of proof is much lower to revoke (preponderance) than convict (beyond a reasonable doubt). Still, a person facing a motion revoke probation has a right to a speedy trial, or hearing. A recent case from the Dallas Court of Appeals addressed this issue. Today’s case of the day is

No. 05-13-00371-CR GEORGE GUO, Appellant v. THE STATE OF TEXAS, Appellee

So what happened to Mr. Guo?

In 1991 George pled guilty to burglary and was sentenced to shock probation. What’s shock probation? That is where you are sentenced to prison (in this case George got 10 years in TDCJ) but the court allows you do probation after spending a few months in prison. That is, the “shock” of going to prison is going to make you a better probationer. Hence the title, shock probation.

So George gets out of prison on starts probation. In 1999 George is arrested again for a few felonies in Fort Bend County. Rule No 1. of probation is to not get arrested, so Dallas filed a motion to revoke Mr. Guo’s probation. A bench was is issued in 2001 to bring George back to Dallas. George pleads guilty in Fort Bend County and is sentenced to prison for 14 years. Mr. Guo is finally transferred to Dallas for the probation revocation in…. 2012! George’s lawyer files a motion to dismiss the probation revocation case because the delay has violated Mr. Guo’s right to a speedy revocation and the trial court denies the motion.

I know what you’re thinking. That if speed trial rights mean anything, it should mean the right to have a hearing within  a decade of a motion to revoke probation being filed. But this is Texas, and silly things like a constitutional right to speedy trial will not stand in the way of our conviction machine. Let’s look at the law.

What’s the law on speedy trials in probation revocation cases?

From the opinion-

In the context of a probation violation, a defendant’s right to a speedy trial attaches when the motion to revoke is filed. Martinez v. State, 531 S.W.2d 343, 345 (Tex. Crim. App. 1976). State courts analyze federal constitutional speedy trial claims under the guidelines outlined in Barker v. Wingo and we consider four factors: (1) the length of the delay, (2) the State’s reason for the delay, (3) the defendant’s assertion of the right, and (4) the prejudice to the defendant resulting from the delay. See Barker, 407 U.S. at 531; Cantu v. State, 253 S.W.3d 273, 280

(Tex. Crim. App. 2008). No single factor is necessary or sufficient to show a violation of the right to a speedy trial, although the length of the delay is a “triggering mechanism” for analysis of the other factors. See Barker, 407 U.S. at 530, 533. If the delay is “presumptively prejudicial,” the State then bears the burden of justifying the delay and the defendant has the burden of proving the assertion of the right and prejudice. Doggett v. United States, 505 U.S. 647, 657−58 (1992); Cantu, 253 S.W.3d at 280. The defendant’s burden of proof “varies inversely” with the State’s degree of culpability for the delay—the less culpability the State has in the trial delay, the more a defendant must show actual prejudice or proof of diligence in asserting his speedy trial right. Cantu, 253 S.W.3d at 280–81. In evaluating a speedy trial claim, we balance the State’s conduct against the defendant’s and consider the four factors together, along with any other relevant circumstances. Barker, 407 U.S. at 530, 533. While the State has the burden of justifying the delay, the defendant has the burden of proving the assertion of the right and prejudice.

How did the court apply the law to this case?

The first factor the court looked at was the length of the delay. It was a really long time between the motion to revoke being filed and Guo being brought to Dallas for a hearing. The court held that the delay was long enough and finds this issue favors Mr. Guo.

Second factor is what caused the delay. The State had no real answer for why the let Guo sit in jail so long. So the court found against the State on that issue. 2 for 2 for Guo so far.

The third factor is, when did the Defendant assert his right to a speedy trial. In this case that was in 2012, when Guo was actually back in Dallas. Guo had a lawyer on the probation revocation during this time, his lawyer made the decision not to file a speedy trial motion earlier because that lawyer thought the case was too old to prosecute. The appeals court found that Guo should have filed a speedy trial demand sooner and rules for the State on this factor.

Finally the last factor is prejudice, that is, how was Mr. Guo harmed by the delay in his speedy trial rights? I’ve always thought prejudice was a weird factor to add in the speedy trial analysis. It feels specifically help the State save their precious conviction. This is the factor courts use most often to excuse speedy trial violations. Think of another Constitutional Right that we will allow the State to violate routinely under a “no harm no foul” mentality. That’s what the prejudice factors does, it makes a defendant prove to the court’s satisfaction that it would be harder to try his case after a decade has passed, and if he doesn’t do that to the court’s satisfaction, then his constitutional protections are ignored.

In this case Guo asserted that it would be really hard to bring in witnesses from his old felony cases to testify since the allegations are so old. And that makes sense, but what the court of appeals found is that Guo should have produced more evidence of prejudice at the speedy trial hearing. That is, Guo needed to prove a negative. He had to show at the speedy trial hearing what he wouldn’t be able to show at the probation revocation hearing because of the delay. That is, put on proof that the witnesses couldn’t remember these events, or had moved or died etc. So the court rules that Guo didn’t do enough and finds for the State on this factor.

If you are keeping score that’s 2 for Guo and 2 for the State. So now the court has to “balance” these factors. Here is the entire balancing act.

From the opinion-

The delay here was presumptively prejudicial to trigger a speedy trial analysis. Weighing in favor of finding a violation of appellant’s speedy trial right are the facts that the delay was excessive and the State offered no good reason for the delay. Weighing against finding a violation of the right are the facts that appellant knew of the pending motion, was incarcerated on other felony charges during the entire time, failed to assert his right until he was returned to Dallas over thirteen years after the motion to revoke was filed, and failed to demonstrate prejudice. In light of this record, we conclude appellant’s right to a speedy probation revocation hearing was not violated.

That was quick. It took longer for the court to explain the law than it did to explain why the Defendant loses even though the State and Defense each had two factors in their favor.

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