Articles Tagged with constitutional rights

We hear about the right to a speedy trial—a constitutional guarantee provided by the Sixth Amendment. Nevertheless, we hear about people who are behind bars awaiting trial all the time, which makes one wonder, what does the term “speedy” really mean in this context? And why are nearly 45,000 people sitting in county jails across California even though they have never been convicted or sentenced? Moreover, why have over 1,000 been rotting in jail for over three years, and why have another 332 been there for over five years? 

Speedy is Debatable

There is no actual definition of “speedy” in the Constitution, so scholars have landed on the term “reasonable” to describe the length of time someone must wait for a trial to occur.  Unfortunately, that word is no more definitive than the word we were originally trying to understand! We can look at legal precedent and see that the U. S. Supreme Court defined a speedy trial as essentially a balancing act where the conduct of both the prosecution and the defendant are contemplated. If that makes the definition sufficiently muddy, perhaps the four items to be considered will help:

  • The length of a delay;
  • Reasons for a delay;
  • Prejudice to a defendant;
  • Whether the defendant requested a speedy trial.

Still feeling a bit confused? Thankfully, the Speedy Trial Act puts some meat on the bone.  In general, a suspect must be charged with a federal crime within 30 days of a summons or arrest. Assuming the person pleads not guilty, a trial must be scheduled for no more than 70 days beyond that date or the date the person appears in court. Local statutes differ by state, but have similar deadlines.  Here in California, Penal Code 1382 PC has the following time limits:

  • Within 15 days of arrest formal charges must be filed;
  • Trials must occur within 45 days of arraignment for misdemeanors and infractions;
  • Felonies must go to trial within 60 days of arraignment.

Why Doesn’t This Always Occur According to Time Constraints?

Under certain circumstances, these rules may be modified, which can occur if either party asks the court for a continuance. For instance, the defendant may wish to waive their right to a speedy trial if they need more time to bolster their defense. There may be other reasons to delay the trial, including: 

  • If the case is extremely complicated and more time is needed;
  • If new evidence changes the route a prosecutor or defense attorney may wish to engage;
  • If the court calendar is too full to handle the cases in a speedy fashion;
  • If the defendant becomes ill or otherwise incapacitated and unable to attend trial;
  • If a natural disaster or other incident (like the pandemic) makes trying the case on time impossible.

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In a 6-5 opinion (United States v. Sanchez-Gomez), the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals just found the San Diego District Court’s 2013 shackling policy for pretrial defendants unconstitutional- “likening the court’s policy to treating inmates “like a bear on a chain.” While it is a significant ruling, the opinion is moot for the San Diego criminal court system because it no longer has the same restraint policy from 2013. The San Diego federal court had enacted the policy after the U.S. Marshals Service cited safety concerns due to understaffing and an uptick in violence. Federal Defenders of San Diego, a non-profit which provides public defense for defendants, sued over the policy on behalf of four people charged with crimes such as illegal re-entry, drug importation, and misuse of a passport.

U.S. District Chief Judge Barry T. Moskowitz decided to defer to the marshals on security, allowing the default policy to be the use of five-point restraints — leg and hand shackles connected by a belly band — during routine hearings. Now, overturning the lower court, the 9th Circuit ruling would only allow for shackling if it would serve a compelling purpose. The majority opinion found that “a blanket policy applied to all defendants infuses the courtroom with a prison atmosphere.” Rather, the higher court noted that each defendant must be assessed on a case-by case basis on whether they should be shackled on both the hands and feet. The judges noted that the “constitutional liberties” of defendants must be defended.

Your Constitutional Rights

It is widely accepted that pretrial detainees have the same rights as convicted prisoners.

You have the right to be treated with dignity and respect in a courtroom. While the U.S. constitution does not explicitly use these words, the 14th Amendment guarantee to due process denotes that even  defendants have the right to fairness, dignity, respect, and privacy within our criminal justice system. This concept of human dignity is one that has been refined by the courts in its interpretation of the constitution.  The Supreme Court in Deck v. Missouri held that the use of visible shackles during jury proceedings would prejudice the jury against the defendant. The recent 9th Circuit ruling clarified the scope of the right to dignity to pretrial proceedings.

Your are also presumed to be innocent until found guilty. See Taylor v. Kentucky, 436 U.S. 478, 98 S. Ct. 1930, 56 L. Ed. 2d 468 (1978). The 9th circuit clarifies that shackling before a defendant is even convicted or sentenced weakens that presumption. Continue reading

In response to the passing and enactment of SB 178 (the Electronic Communications Privacy Act) for the new year, San Diego Superior Court judges have started using waiver days after the new state law took effect. SB 178 would require police and probation officers to get a warrant signed by a judge before searching through a suspect’s electronic communications, cell phones, emails, etc.

To the surprise of many criminal defense lawyers in the area, their clients were being asked to sign a newly drafted waiver which would allow police to search cell phones, computers, and other types of electronics without first obtaining a warrant. The one-page waiver spells out the types of items that would be subject to search: call logs, emails, text messages, and social media accounts accessed through a variety of devices — everything from an iPhone to an Xbox.  Perhaps more concerning is the fact that some attorneys claim their clients were being required to sign these waivers at their arraignments.

Criminal defendants who have signed the waiver have essentially signed away their rights. By the terms of the agreement, they have agreed to disclose any and all passwords used to access those devices or accounts, including fingerprint that unlocks an electronic device. Do not sign these types of waivers if you are asked. It is recommended you consult with a criminal defense attorney right away.

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