Speedy Trial Rights in California - Penal Code 1382 PC
The United States Constitution guarantees its citizens the right to a speedy trial, which protects them from being held in custody or under suspicion indefinitely. In California, this right is codified in Penal Code 1382 PC.
In other words, anyone charged with a crime has a constitutional right to a speedy trial guaranteed under federal law and by California's fast and speedy trial law.
The primary purpose of ensuring your right to have a speedy trial is that there could be a chance of prejudice in giving a defense because witness memories will typically fade over time or disappear, and evidence can be lost or destroyed.
According to this law, defendants must be brought to trial within a specific time frame following their arraignment. If this time frame is exceeded and the judge has not granted an exception to the rule, the case may be dismissed.
In California, you have a right to a trial for a misdemeanor case within 45 days after being charged if you are not in custody and 30 days if in custody. If charged with a felony crime, you have a right to have a trial within 60 days.
Suppose you were denied a right to a speedy trial. In that case, your lawyer could file a motion that is asking the court to dismiss your charges, which is known as a “Serna motion” or a “speedy trial motion,” which is a legal motion to dismiss a misdemeanor or felony case due to a speedy trial violation. These are named after the 1985 California Supreme Court decision in Serna v. Superior Court.
In other words, this type of motion claims that you were denied your constitutional right to a speedy trial that violates your 6th Amendment to the United States Constitution right to a speedy trial, which is also guaranteed in the California Constitution, Article 1, Section 15. Let's review this law further below.
Overview of Penal Code 1382 PC
The right to a speedy trial is one of our criminal justice system's oldest and most fundamental rights. The U.S. Constitution's Sixth Amendment provides that "in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial."
To that end, PC 1382 provides the following specific time requirements for bringing defendants to trial:
- A formal charge (aka, an "information) must be filed against the defendant within 15 days of arrest;
- For infractions and misdemeanors, a trial must be held within 30-45 days of arraignment;
- For felonies, a trial must be held within 60 days of arraignment.
Simply put, a prosecutor must get a defendant in a felony case to trial within 60 days of arraignment unless there is good cause for a delay.
These statutory limits are based on the premise that defendants should not have to wait an unreasonable amount of time for their day in court. A long delay between arrest and trial can cause numerous problems for defendants, including:
- The loss of witnesses, who may move away or die;
- The fading of memories, which can make it more challenging to recall what happened; or
- The decline of evidence, such as physical evidence, may be lost or destroyed over time;
- To protect your ability to defend yourself;
- To minimize anxiety waiting to resolve your case.
An accused person also has to worry about the adverse effects of being under suspicion or in custody for a prolonged period. This can include damage to one's reputation, employment prospects, and personal relationships.
To protect against these problems, Penal Code 1382 PC requires the court to set a trial date within the prescribed timeframe after a defendant's arraignment. If the court fails to do so, and if no exception to the rule has been granted, the defendant can file a motion to have the charges dismissed.
What Are the Exceptions to the Speedy Trial Rules?
The statutory limits of PC 1382 are not set in stone. By law, the court may extend the trial date past the 30, 45, or 60-day time frame under certain circumstances. Exceptions to the rule generally may be granted in one of two situations:
- When the defendant waives their speedy trial rights or requests a later trial date; or
- When the court finds "good cause" for delaying the trial date.
Your right to a speedy trial begins at either the date a complaint or other charging document has been filed against you or the date you were arrested if an actual restraint follows that arrest.
What Is the Time Waiver or Request for Delay?
There are times when it is in the defendant's best interests to delay a trial date—for example, the defendant may be ill and needs to recover, or the delay may give the attorney more time to prepare a solid defense.
In these cases, defendants can waive their right to a speedy trial or request a later trial date from the court. Remember that this also gives prosecutors more time to prepare their cases.
What is Finding a "Good Cause?"
There may be many legitimate reasons for postponing a trial beyond the statutory limits of PC 1382. Most of these reasons involve ensuring the defendant can receive a fair trial (after all, a fair trial is even more important than a speedy one). Common examples of finding reasonable cause to delay a trial might include:
- The defendant becomes incapacitated and unable to defend themselves;
- The circumstances of the case are too complex to process reasonably within that time frame (for example, if there are multiple defendants in the same incident);
- New evidence has been discovered which must be factored into the case;
- A natural disaster, health emergency, or another extraordinary event makes a speedy trial impossible.
What Happens If the Defendant Is Not Brought to Trial in Time?
If the court or prosecution fails to bring the defendant to trial within the time requirements of PC 1382, and if no exception to the rule applies, the defendant's attorney may file a "speedy trial motion" (also known as a "Serna motion") requesting that the case be dismissed because the defendant's constitutional rights have been violated.
The judge will then hold a hearing to determine whether this is so, and if so, the case may be dismissed. They will consider the justification for the delay and if there was prejudice against you resulting from it. You must show that the delay caused you some harm.
The filing of a Serna motion does not guarantee that the case will be dismissed. The court will still need to consider whether there was good cause for the delay and whether the delay and other factors prejudiced the defendant.
However, if the court does find that the defendant's speedy trial rights were violated, the charges will be dismissed. If the Serna motion was unsuccessful, you could still go through the criminal appeals process.
The legal rights to a speedy trial motion can be complex and will require a close examination by an experienced lawyer. Eisner Gorin LLP is a criminal defense law firm in Los Angeles, California. You can contact us by phone or using the contact form.