Title 18 U.S. Code Chapter 208 - Federal Speedy Trial Laws
Among other rights granted to defendants, the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees United States citizens the right to a speedy trial so that the charges against them cannot be held over them indefinitely or for an unreasonable amount of time.
To that end, Title 18 U.S. Code Chapter 208 lays out the ground rules for the federal criminal justice system to ensure the defendant's right to a speedy trial is protected.
If you're charged with a federal crime and these laws are violated, the charges against you must be dropped or dismissed in other words, if you're not brought to trial in accordance with the time frame required by law, the case will be dismissed. charges against you will be dismissed.
18 U.S.C. 3161(a) says, “In any case involving a defendant charged with an offense, the appropriate judicial officer, at the earliest practicable time, shall, after consultation with the counsel for the defendant and the attorney for the Government, set the case for trial on a day certain, or list it for trial on a weekly or other short-term trial calendars at a place within the judicial district, so as to assure a speedy trial.”
Subsection (b) says, “Any information or indictment charging an individual with the commission of an offense shall be filed within thirty days from the date on which such individual was arrested or served with a summons.”
Suppose someone was charged with a felony in a district where no grand jury has been in session during such a thirty-day period. In that case, the period for filing the indictment will be extended an additional thirty days.
Subsection (c) (1) says, “In any case in which a plea of not guilty is entered, the trial of a defendant… or indictment of an offense shall commence within seventy days from the filing date of the information… or from the date, the defendant has appeared before judicial officer where such charge is pending.” Let's review this federal statute in more detail below.
An Overview of the Law
According to 18 U.S.C. Chapter 208, a defendant must be indicted within 30-60 days of an arrest for a federal crime.
Then, under normal circumstances, the defendant must be brought to trial within 70 days from when the information (for misdemeanors) or indictment (for felonies) is filed.
The law outlines several exceptions to this time limit, including some at the court's discretion, such as delays caused by a defendant's failure to appear or lack of mental competency.
In addition, the law grants prosecutors more leeway in indictments involving complex investigations, multiple defendants, and cases where it may be necessary to obtain evidence beyond United States borders.
There are also concessions for extraordinary circumstances in which the courts cannot function (e.g., a natural disaster or a global pandemic).
In cases where the court determines that it is necessary to exceed the 70-day window for a trial, the court must document its reasoning and record it. The court also needs to estimate how long the delay will be so that both sides can prepare accordingly.
A Breakdown of 18 U.S.C. Chapter 208
Title 18 U.S.C. Chapter 208 contains many elaborate details regarding speedy trials and how defendants' rights are protected. Below is a quick run-down of the sections of this chapter:
- 18 U.S.C. 3161: Provides an elaborate set of rules for the time windows between when a defendant is indicted and when they must be brought to trial - along with a wide range of contingencies and exceptions.
- 18 U.S.C. 3162: Discusses sanctions that the court can impose if the prosecutors fail to comply with time limits and other rules. This includes dismissing charges for failing to comply with the required time window and penalties when prosecutors manipulate the rules for their advantage, such as setting an early trial date to deliberately prevent a witness from testifying or filing a frivolous motion solely to delay the trial.
- 18 U.S.C. 3163: Discusses the effective dates and circumstances in which the latest time windows will take effect.
- 18 U.S.C. 3164: Instructs the courts to prioritize cases in which the defendant is detained while awaiting trial and cases in which the defendant is considered a flight risk.
- 18 U.S.C. 3165: Requires the federal district courts to conduct a "continual study" of the administration of justice and to create and implement plans to ensure they comply with speedy trial rules.
- 18 U.S.C. 3166-3171: Provides more details on the planning processes for district courts, including what should be included in the plans, the roles of various court personnel, how plans should be reported to Congress, what type of data should be collected, etc.
- 18 U.S.C. 3172: discusses the terms “judge” or “judicial officer,” which means any United States magistrate judge or federal district judge.
- 18 U.S.C. 3174: Discusses the processes by which the courts may apply for a suspension of time limits due to emergencies and the processes of determining whether to grant them.
Notably, under 18 U.S. Code 3162 Sanctions, it says that if a case against someone has yet to be filed within the required time frame, the case will be dismissed or dropped.
What to Do If You Believe You Are Being Denied a Speedy Trial
The federal district courts typically make every effort to comply with 18 U.S.C. Chapter 208 in protecting defendants' rights.
That being said, the law is complex, and there are many exceptions and extenuating circumstances, so it can be difficult for the average person to know whether their right to a speedy trial is truly being protected, especially if numerous delays are preventing you from going to trial.
Suppose you believe that the prosecutors or court are not complying with the federal speedy trial laws or trying to manipulate them for their advantage. In that case, the best course of action is to hire an experienced federal criminal defense attorney to help you.
A good federal criminal defense attorney should be able to identify any law violations and take the necessary steps to protect your rights.
They may even be able to use a speedy trial violation as leverage in negotiations with prosecutors or the court, helping you get a better deal or avoid jail time. In some cases, they may also be able to file a motion to get your case dismissed.
You can contact our law firm to review the case details and legal options by phone or using the contact form. We provide legal representation on federal criminal issues throughout the United States. Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles, California.