The U.S. Constitution states that citizens accused of crimes have the right to a “speedy trial.” The New Jersey State Constitution secures a similar right. But neither document defines what, exactly, it means by a “speedy” trial—and in some cases, the process may take months or years.
Some U.S. states have experimented with setting specific time limits on certain pre-trial steps in order to reduce the time that a person charged with a crime must wait before being brought to trial. New Jersey, however, is taking a slightly different approach.
In a new law that went into effect at the beginning of 2017, New Jersey implemented a four-factor test to determine whether a person’s right to a speedy trial has been violated. The four factors courts must now weigh are:
- The length of the delay,
- The reason for the delay,
- Whether or not the defendant has asserted the right to a speedy trial, and
- The risk of prejudice to the defendant imposed by the delays.
The length and reason for the delay are often related. For example, courts will tolerate a longer period of delay if the case is complex and the delay has been caused by the process of gathering and analyzing evidence. When there are fewer good reasons for the delay and it appears merely that the state is “stalling,” however, the court is more likely to find in favor of the defendant for moving the case forward. And while the court can consider whether or not the defendant has spoken up about his or her speedy trial right, the court may not assume that a defendant’s failure to speak up means that he or she has waived that right.
Supporters of the new system argue that it will help courts ensure speedy trials that still allow for adequate consideration of the evidence. Opponents, however, note that the results so far have been inconsistent, even in very similar cases. For example, in one case, the court found that an 11-month delay was a denial of the speedy trial right, but a 32-month delay in a similar case was not.
An experienced New Jersey criminal defense lawyer can help you navigate the complexities of the criminal justice system, building a strong defense that protects your legal rights and fights for the best possible outcome in your case.
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