The Need for Speed (Part One of Three)

One of the most common requested motions requested by clients is filing a speedy trial demand. In the State of Georgia, a criminal defendant has a statutory right and a constitutional right to a speedy trial demand. This post will describe what the statutory right to a speedy trial under Georgia law, the next post will describe the defendant’s constitutional right to a speedy trial and in a final post, I will discuss whether it is a wise thing for a defendant to file speedy trial demand in his case.

A person’s right to a statutory speedy trial is found at OCGA §17-7-170 for most felony and misdemeanor cases. OCGA §17-7-171 deals with speedy trial demands in death penalty cases. For the purpose of this post, I will discuss OCGA §17-7-170 only. A person’s right to a statutory speedy trial does not arise until the District Attorney or the Solicitor General’s Office (the State) files formal charges against a person. I explained this process briefly in a prior post.

Once the State has filed formal charges against a defendant, then the defendant must file his demand within the same term of court that the charges were filed or the subsequent term of court. A “term of court” is legal jargon. “Term of Court” is the period of time that the court is in session for business. There are 159 counties in the State of Georgia, and each one has a different term of court. OCGA §15-6-3 lays out the term of court for each county in the State of Georgia.

If a defendant wishes to invoke his statutory right to a speedy trial, he must file it in a pleading separate from other motions that he wishes to file in his case. In other words, it cannot be buried as a portion of another motion. Moreover, the Defendant must have his demand clearly titled, such as “Demand for a Speedy Trial.” Lastly, he has to serve a filed copy of his demand upon the State and the Judge that is hearing his case that is separate from the other motions that the defendant wishes to file in his case. If he fails to do so, then his statutory demand is void. If a defendant does not file his demand in a timely fashion, then he will have to ask permission from the Judge hearing his case to do so.

Once a defendant has filed his statutory demand for a speedy trial, the State will have the term of court that the defendant filed his demand and the subsequent term of court to try the case, provided there are jurors empaneled and qualified to try the defendant’s case. This means that there are jurors that can hear the defendant’s case at the courthouse. If there are not jurors that can hear the defendant’s case, then the demand does not run. Yet, if there are jurors empaneled and qualified to try a defendant’s case during these two terms of court and the State fails to try the defendant’s case, then the defendant is entitled to an absolute discharge, i.e. an acquittal of the charges against him.

Let us use a real example to illustrate the mechanics of a defendant’s right to a speedy trial demand and the State’s obligation to comply with it. Defendant is charged in Rockdale County with Armed Robbery. The terms of court for the Superior Court of Rockdale County are the following: the first Monday in January, April, July, and October. For this thought exercise, we will presume that there are jurors empaneled and qualified to hear the defendant’s case. If the State obtained an indictment against the defendant for Armed Robbery on March 6, 2017, then the defendant will until July 3, 2017 to file his statutory speedy trial demand. If the defendant files his demand after July 3, 2017, it will be invalid, unless he has obtained permission from the Superior Court Judge to file it.

If a defendant filed his statutory speedy trial demand before April 3, 2017, then the State will have until July 3, 2017 to try the case. If a defendant filed his statutory speedy trial demand after April 3, 2017 but before July 3, 2017, then the State will have until October 2, 2017 to try the defendant’s case. If the State fails to try the defendant’s case, then the defendant would be entitled to an absolute discharge (acquittal) of the Armed Robbery charge.

If you think that the rules concerning a defendant’s statutory right to a speedy trial are complicated, wait until I explain the rules surrounding a defendant’s constitutional right to a speedy trial.

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