Ever wonder why criminal cases languish in the system prior to resolution? Frequently, good reasons frequently exist for a case to drag on over a period of months, or even years. Further, the passage of time can actually help the defendant by effectively weakening the State’s case through the loss or disappearance of physical evidence or witnesses, or the discovery of exculpatory evidence. But the same cannot be said of every criminal matter. Some cases can be resolved quickly, thereby freeing limited resources that can then be focused on more complex matters.
In any event, and starting January 1, 2017, the criminal justice reforms that have been enacted in New Jersey will emphasize moving criminal cases through the system more promptly and efficiently. In a prior blog post, we commented upon one of the major elements of the new reforms, which is bail reform. The other major element is speedy trial.
Speedy trial is pretty much what it sounds like. Cases will be on a more defined schedule which is designed to bring them to trial or other resolution within a set time frame. This is not a new concept. The federal system, New York State, and many other jurisdictions have had some form of speedy trial for years. But this is new for New Jersey, and it merits discussion because of the significant impact it will undoubtedly have on our criminal courts.
Speedy trial will apply to defendants who are detained either because they were not given a bail, or because they could not afford the bail imposed in their case. The State will have 90 days from charging to present the case to a grand jury and obtain an indictment, and the case must be tried or otherwise resolved within 180 days after the indictment. Failure to comply with these time frames will result in the defendant’s release, or in their being ROR’d with terms and conditions.
Certain events can occur which will result in time being “excluded” from the 90 and 180 day periods. Put somewhat differently, these events will effectively stop the speedy trial clock, at least temporarily. These events are:
- if the defendant is found to be mentally incompetent;
- if the defendant applies to drug court or mental health court;
- adjournment requests;
- the defendant’s detention in another jurisdiction;
- the occurrence of a natural disaster;
- delays resulting from the complexity of a given case;
- the severance of co-defendants;
- dismissed or superseding indictments;
- the defendant’s failure to appear;
- the recusal of the judge hearing the case;
- discovery violations;
- good cause; and
- time periods required by statute.
Another significant issue is the number of status conferences that will be held in a given case. Previously, there was no limit to the number of status conferences that could be scheduled between arraignment and plea or trial. Now, cases will have two status conferences, but the judge has discretion to schedule a third status conference if it appears necessary.
Speedy trial is going to put considerable pressure on everyone to move cases more quickly. There are certain issues that defense attorneys must remain particularly sensitive to when dealing with speedy trial. One of the most problematic areas will almost certainly be the use of experts. Depending upon the case and the precise issue that needs to be addressed, it can take a lot of time to identify and hire an expert, and then even more time for the expert to perform their analysis and prepare a report. This is particularly true with mental health experts, who may require the defendant’s prior treatment records before they can evaluate the defendant and generate a meaningful report. As we all know, it can take weeks – if not months – to get treatment records. Defense counsel needs to keep careful track of all of the obstacles s/he confronts that cause delays so as to be able to make appropriate applications for additional time when necessary.
New Brunswick criminal defense attorney James S. Friedman represents defendants with criminal charges in all federal state and municipal courts in New Jersey, and the federal and state courts located in New York City. If you have a criminal case in New Jersey or New York City, contact criminal defense firm James S. Friedman, LLC today to learn about your options and start planning your defense.