After four years of less-than-complete numbers of federal court judges in the Arizona criminal division, the busiest federal criminal court in the country, the government announced that the court is now full. According to a recent report, the court, which is supposed to have 13 judges, was operating with as few as seven. In 2011, these judges handled 8,070 cases, averaging 1,300 cases each.
The result of this heavy load was long wait times for trials and some cases heard by visiting judges. The Arizona court is a particularly busy one because of the state’s proximity with the Mexican border. Smuggling and illegal border crossings are the majority of the cases, but other types of criminal cases may also have been pushed back for lack of judges to hear them.
The Right To A Speedy Trial
The Constitution of the United States and the state of Arizona both guarantee the right to a speedy trial. The Sixth Amendment was drafted because it was common practice at one time to hold those charged with crimes for a very long period of time before bringing their cases on for trial. During this time, the defendant could be bankrupted or could die in prison without ever having a day in court.
The right to a speedy trial is commonly understood to mean that a person accused of a crime cannot be held indefinitely without his or her case being heard, but it implies much more than that. The Supreme Court, in the case of Barker v. Wingo (1972), created a four-part test that determines whether the defendant’s right to a speedy trial has been violated. This four-part test includes:
- Consideration of the length of the delay. The fact that a defendant is held over a weekend, for example, because the magistrate who will hear the defendant’s plea for bail is not available until Monday is not usually considered a violation of a right to a speedy trial. Holding a defendant for weeks without a bail hearing, however, is clearly a violation of the defendant’s rights. In Arizona, 24 hours is usually the longest a person can be held without bail.
- Consideration of the reasons for the delay. There may be a good reason for the delay, but it is up to the prosecutor to show what it is. A defendant may assert that the prosecution is simply delaying for no reason.
- Consideration of the defendant’s assertion of his or her right to a speedy trial. The right to a speedy trial will probably not be exercised unless the defendant chooses to bring it up. In some cases, a defendant may not want a speedy trial for various reasons.
- Consideration of the prejudice to the defendant. The court can also consider whether a delay is prejudicial to the defendant. For example, if an important witness for the defense is in very poor health, the judge may order the prosecution to hold the trial quickly so that the defendant does not lose the benefit of this person’s testimony.
No matter what the reason, those who are charged with crimes have the right to challenge the prosecution if a trial is delayed. Alex Lane, a criminal defense attorney in Phoenix, may be able to help you if you are waiting on charges or a trial.