Recently, a New York court considered a defendant’s appeal that too much time had elapsed between his DWI charges and the date of the trial that resulted in his guilty verdict which was a violation of his statutory and constitutional speedy trial rights. The defendant argued that his original guilty verdict should be overturned because his trial was unreasonably delayed. The court considered the defendant’s appeal and decided it did not have enough evidence to make an informed decision on the matter at hand. Thus, the higher court sent the case back to the lower court to consider the speedy trial issue which was never raised in the lower Court.
Facts of the Case
According to the opinion, the defendant was driving in March 2017 when he was pulled over by a police officer. The officer asked the defendant to step out of his car and perform a variety of field sobriety tests. The defendant performed poorly, and he was taken into custody. Tests revealed that the defendant’s blood alcohol content was .13%. He was charged with two misdemeanor counts of driving while intoxicated and one count of aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle in the first degree.
After being charged in March 2017, the defendant went to trial in April 2018. As a result of the trial, the defendant was convicted and sentenced both to time in jail and time on probation.
The defendant appealed, arguing that the delay between his charges and his hearing was unnecessarily long. Under the Sixth Amendment, each defendant is guaranteed the right to a “speedy trial”, meaning there should not be an unreasonable amount of time that passes before a defendant is given his day in court.
The State of New York conceded that over a year elapsed between the first charge and the day they announced they were ready for trial – this could, they said, lead to the conclusion that the defendant’s right to a speedy trial was violated. However, the State argued that it was largely the defendant’s own fault that the trial was postponed. Because the defendant’s lawyer was, at times, asking for a delay, the State should not be punished for the yearlong delay.
The higher court looked at the lower court’s written notes from this time period to determine who was at fault for the delayed trial. After searching these notes for clues as to what exactly happened, the higher court determined that there was insufficient evidence to point conclusively in one direction or another. The lower court’s notes were handwritten, unclear, and confusing. It was impossible, then, to determine who exactly was at fault for the trial’s delay.
Because the higher court did not have enough information to make an informed decision on the issue, it directed the lower court to reconsider the defendant’s argument. The only reasonable solution, said the higher court, was for the lower court to have its own hearing on whether or not the defendant’s right to a speedy trial was violated. Because the lower court would have more information on what had gone wrong, it was the lower court’s responsibility to make a ruling either for or against the defendant’s contention.
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