Monday, March 11, 2013

Speedy Trial and Drunk Driving

A defendant in a drunk driving case enjoys speedy trial protections from both United States Constitution and article 21 of the Maryland declaration of rights. In this particular case the defendant was charged with drunk driving in August of 2011. His case first came to court in November of 2012. At that time I moved to dismiss the charges against him based on the state's violation of his speedy trial rights. The District Court judge denied that request and we went to trial in the District Court and he was convicted of driving while impaired and acquitted of driving while under the influence of alcohol (the more serious charge).

Rather than accept probation before judgment which would have stricken the conviction we appealed to the Circuit Court for Montgomery County.

In the Circuit Court we again made the argument that his speedy trial rights were violated. Maryland's High Court has decided a case which was almost identical to the facts in my client's case.

In the case of Divver versus state, decided by the Court of Appeals in 1999, the defendant was charged with drunk driving. It took just over one year from the date of arrest until the first trial date for the case to be heard. The defendant argued that his speedy trial rights were violated and at the District Court level and that the Circuit Court level the court found against him. At the highest level, however, in the Court of Appeals, they sided with that defendant. They looked at four factors to determine whether the defendant speedy trial rights were violated:

1. The length of the delay
2. The reason for the delay
3. Prejudice to the defendant
4. Assertion of the speedy trial right

In my client's case the delay was over 15 months. In the appellate case noted above the delay was just over 12 months. In my client's case the reason for the delay was unknown but it certainly wasn't the fault of the defendant. In the appellate case above the reason for the delay was overcrowding of the court docket. In both cases there was no actual prejudice that was obvious to either defendant; neither one was incarcerated, neither one lost the ability to effectively defend themselves (witnesses moving or dying or becoming otherwise unavailable). In both cases the defendant asserted their speedy trial rights. In my client's case I asserted his speedy trial rights before the court had even notified him of a trial date. I asserted his speedy trial right in the District Court, in the Circuit Court at the pretrial and then again at the motions hearing.

The judge in my client's case looked at the various factors, I ask the court to follow established precedent (the cases were almost identical) and the judge dismissed the drunk driving charges against my client because his speedy trial rights were violated.

Whether you are facing a drunk driving charge, shoplifting, possession of controlled dangerous substance or other misdemeanor or sexual offense, drug distribution, first-degree assault or other felony, speedy trial should always be considered in analyzing your case.

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