The Right to Speedy Trial in Maryland

by | Dec 18, 2021 | Defense Lawyers

Maryland has favorable speedy trial laws that could benefit your case. You are guaranteed the right to a speedy trial by the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article 21 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights. In addition, Maryland Rule 4-271 requires that a trial date in the Circuit Court be set within 30 days of the entry of an attorney’s appearance or the initial appearance of the defendant, whichever happens first. Trial must occur within 180 days of the earlier of counsel’s appearance or the defendant’s initial appearance in the Circuit Court.  This is known as the Hicks date. 

While the Hicks rule is clear on its face, the rule may be waived upon a showing of good cause to continue a trial date beyond 180 days.  This could apply to the defense or the prosecution.  For example, a witness for the prosecution may be on active military duty and will not return until after the Hicks date.  In that case, a judge would likely find good cause to continue the trial beyond 180 days. Similarly, the defendant may wish to retain an expert in his/her case that is unavailable until after the Hicks date and request a continuance beyond the Hicks date on that basis.  

While the Hicks rule only applies in Circuit Court, the right to a speedy trial also applies in the District Court.  Divver v. State is an important Maryland case dealing with speedy trial in the District Court.  In Divver, the defendant was charged with DUI and failure to stop at a steady red traffic signal. Divver demanded a speedy trial four days after his arrest.  No action occurred in the case until 9 months later  (February 1997)  when he received notice of a court date that was 4 months away (June 1997).  No party had requested a continuance.  At trial, Divvers moved to dismiss his case based on the denial of his speedy trial rights. The judge denied his motion, and he was ultimately convicted.  Divvers then appealed his case to the Circuit Court, where his motion was granted, and the case was dismissed.  In making its decision, the Court analyzed four factors: 1) length of the delay; 2) reason for the delay; 3) assertion of the right; and 4) prejudice.

These four factors apply in both the Circuit and District Courts. In 1972, the Supreme Court decided Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514, 92 S.Ct. 2182 (1972), which set forth a balancing test using the above four factors when determining whether the right to a speedy trial has been deprived.  Maryland adopted the same approach in Epps v. State, 276 Md. 96 (1975). No one factor is determinative – rather, the Court should weigh and balance each factor and consider them together with any other relevant circumstances.  

The factors:

1) length of the delay

The delay must be of sufficient length to trigger the balancing test. The length of delay is measured from the date of arrest or filing of charges to the trial date. In Epps, the delay was one year and fourteen days. In Brady v. State, the Court found a fourteen month delay gave rise to a speedy trial claim. 291 Md. 261 (1981). In Reed v. State, the delay was found presumptively prejudicial at thirteen months. 78 Md. App. 522 (1989). There is no bright line rule, but in State v. Gee, the Court of Appeals found that a six-month delay “was not presumptively prejudicial [and therefore] there is no need for inquiry into the other factors which go into the balance.” 289 Md. 565, 579 (1984).  

2) reason for the delay

The government’s reason for the delay will bear on the weight given to this particular factor.  For example, an intentional delay of trial to hamper the defense would be weighed more heavily against the State than overcrowded dockets or negligence.  That said, the reason for the delay in Divver was a shortage of judges, but the Court reasoned that “[a]ssigning the cases for trial is the obligation of the State.  If the failure to assign the case was due to congestion or understaffing of State offices, the delay is chargeable to the State.” 356 Md. 479 (1999).  This means that the defendant does not have to show bad faith on the part of the State, but bad faith would be weighed more heavily against the State.

3) assertion of the right

One must demand their right to a speedy trial.  An experienced criminal defense lawyer will know to do this at every possible stage in the proceedings.  

4) showing of prejudice

While prejudice is presumed once a delay is of sufficient length, a showing of actual prejudice will weigh this factor more heavily in the defense’s favor.  The Court will look at whether someone experienced oppressive pretrial detention, anxiety and concern, and/or impairment of the defense.  

In light of COVID, many trials have been delayed.  If you or someone that you know believes that your right to a speedy trial has been deprived, it is important to discuss your case with a qualified Maryland criminal defense lawyer.  At Scrofano Law PC, attorney Joseph Scrofano has substantial experience litigating these issues to the benefit of her clients.  If you or someone you know has been arrested in Maryland, contact us today for a free consultation.

Joshep S.

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