When you face domestic violence charges in Pennsylvania, the prosecution does not have an unlimited amount of time to make their case. You are guaranteed the right to a speedy trial under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution. If the Commonwealth fails to bring your case to trial in a timely manner, you are entitled to see your case dismissed with prejudice.
The speedy trial rule exists to ensure that cases do not drag on for an unreasonable amount of time as well as prevent defendants from suffering under a long prosecution. However, the current COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in chaos in the legal system. With court dates canceled and cases put on hold, the amount of time your case could drag on might now be extended.
While the right to a speedy trial is guaranteed by the United States Constitution, it falls to the states to enforce this right for violations of state law. Pennsylvania addresses the right to a speedy trial with Rule of Criminal Procedure 600. Informally known as Rule 600, this procedural requirement gives prosecutors a set amount of time to bring a case to trial. If the prosecution fails to do so before the time expires, they are barred from pursuing the case further.
The rule gives the Commonwealth 365 days to bring a person accused of domestic violence to trial. This deadline is shortened to 180 days if the defendant is in custody awaiting trial.
This calculation is not always straightforward, however, as some time can be excluded from the calculation. If the defendant requests a continuance the amount of speedy trial time is paused. In fact, this is the case for any continuances outside of a showing the Commonwealth failed to exercise due diligence. These exceptions can allow a criminal case to stretch on for four to five years despite the limit imposed by Rule 600.
How the Coronavirus has Impacted the Speedy Trial Rule
Because of these exceptions, it is likely that few domestic violence cases would run into speedy trial issues during the coronavirus outbreak. After all, for most cases the time is not currently elapsing for speedy trial purposes.
However, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court addressed the issue of speedy trial time further by declaring a statewide judicial emergency on March 16, 2020. It is currently set to expire on April 30, but it could remain in effect longer if necessary. The emergency declaration specifically addresses speedy trial issues. The declaration empowers county judges to suspend time calculations in court cases, which include speedy trial calculations in domestic violence prosecutions.
Discuss Your Options With an Experienced Defense Attorney
Despite the emergency declaration, the courts do not have free reign to extend a prosecution forever. You are still protected by your civil rights during a pandemic, but an experienced attorney could serve as your advocate in enforcing those rights. Attorney Joseph D. Lento is an experienced Philadelphia criminal defense attorney. To discuss how he can best serve as your advocate, contact us at 215-535-5353.