Our country’s founding fathers realized the devastating effects of pending criminal accusations. Sometimes, being accused of a crime is just as bad as being convicted. Federal criminal indictments have resulted in the accused losing their employment and professional licensure, being shunned by the community, and even broken marriages, all before the accused has had their day in court.
To address this concern, the United States Constitution was written to include the right of the criminally accused to have a speedy trial. The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides, “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial… ” This Constitutional right was intended to protect the citizens from our government, but has over time become twisted and used against criminal defendants charged with a crime in the United States District Court.
When Congress passed the Speedy Trial Act, 18 U.S.C. §3161, the right of the accused to a speedy trial in Federal Court was codified. The Speedy Trial Act requires that “the trial of the defendant… shall commence within seventy days temporary handicap placard from the… indictment, or from the date the defendant has appeared before a judicial officer of the court in which such charge is pending, whichever date occurs last.” In other words, federal criminal trials are to begin within 70 days of the Defendant being arraigned on their indictment. This is not discretionary, except as provided below, and does not have to be requested by the Defendant. It is a requirement set forth in federal law.
The problem occurs when the case is complex, or the Defendant seeks to hire a competent criminal attorney with a busy schedule. Many federal investigations last years, and involve numerous investigators with unlimited federal resources to create their case against the Defendant. Under the Speedy Trial Act, the Defendant is required to be ready for trial within 70 days of being charged, even though the government spent years issuing an indictment
Many of the experienced federal criminal defense attorneys are very busy, and to require them to be ready for trial within 70 days can pose conflicts with their existing schedules. Even if the attorney’s schedule permits, proper preparation for trial within 70 days can be a challenge. A good federal criminal attorney will have to research the case, interview witnesses, issue subpoenas, and file appropriate motions before being ready for trial. To do this within 70 days, on a case in which someone’s freedom is on the line, is not for the faint of heart. Many white collar federal criminal attorneys have complained that some defendants are forced to plead guilty because they are unable to prepare for trial, or are unable to secure a good federal attorney within the 70 days provided by the speedy trial statute.
Another problem working to the detriment of the criminally accused in federal court in the context of the Speedy Trial Act is that they are required to make all financial arrangements with their attorney by the date of arraignment. Many do not have the ability to raise enough funds for such services in such a short period of time, essentially depriving them of the choice of counsel.