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Speedy Trials in Criminal Cases

Decision Making BWA demand for a speedy trial does not mean what people usually think it means, and often does not help resolve the case in the client's favor.

Some people hear about a "speedy trial demand" and decide that they want one.  Rarely is it in your best interest to seek a speedy trial, especially if you have posted bail and resumed your normal life. Time favors defendants. Memories fade, evidence gets lost, and witnesses forget (or change) their stories. As a former prosecutor who handled the most serious of cases, I can tell you that I always considered it a benefit to the state to get a case to trial as quickly as possible, before things started falling apart. For that reason, consider carefully whether you want a speedy trial. Unless you are still in jail and not facing serious charges, it is likely not in your best interest to push your case to trial.    

Official Code of Georgia Annotated § 17-7-170 provides that any defendant may demand a speedy trial during the term of court at which the indictment is filed or the next term thereafter. If a demand is made, the government shall have the term during which the demand is filed and the next term thereafter to try the case. If the case involves a capital offense, such as Murder, Rape, Armed Robbery and several others, Official Code of Georgia Annotated § 17-7-171 gives the government one additional term of court to try the case. (At least, that's how it reads. Unfortunately, the Georgia Supreme Court has interpreted § 17-7-171 to give the government three full terms following the term in which the demand is made.)

What constitutes a “term of court” varies from circuit to circuit. Even a “speedy” trial may take several months to get to court. Most cases are tried within a year of arrest anyway, so a speedy trial demand often does not cause the case to resolve any faster than it normally would. Moreover, many District Attorneys refuse to negotiate any sort of settlement or make any sort of plea offer while a demand for speedy trial is in place. They will require you to withdraw it before they will continue talking to you.

The decision whether to seek a speedy trial is a strategic one. Many defendants think they want a speedy trial, but often it is to your advantage to let a case age. With time, memories fade, witnesses vanish, and victims change their mind. On the contrary, when a case is fresh is when it is often easiest for the government to assemble what it needs for trial. We will discuss whether your case is one where a speedy trial demand is appropriate.

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