Along with a right to a trial by a jury of your peers for any serious offense, the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution also guarantees you the right to a speedy trial. That was done to give people a guarantee that they wouldn’t simply be detained by the authorities for an unfair amount of time while they’re waiting for their chance in court.
However, while some defendants will insist on having the court enforce this right, others are in no hurry whatsoever to make it to trial.
How fast is “fast enough” in Virginia?
Virginia Code Code § 19.2-243 says that felony defendants who are held in custody must be tried within five months of their indictment (if there was no preliminary hearing) or within five months of their preliminary hearing (if there was one). If you don’t waive your right to it, the judge must set the date of trial within that time period.
Why would anybody do that? Well, sometimes, that eliminates the ability of the prosecution to properly prepare their case for trial. If evidence is particularly complex, the defense may think they have a better shot of exposing weaknesses in the prosecution’s case by acting quickly.
Yet, many trials over serious matters are continued (delayed) for months or years past that time period because defendants want to give themselves plenty of time to hire investigators of their own, look for additional flaws in the prosecution’s case, retest forensic evidence and more. It’s also usually considered advantageous for some defendants to delay their trials as much as possible in order to allow media attention on the case to die down.
What should you do? It depends a lot on your situation. There are pros and cons associated with both tactics. This is a decision best made after learning more about your situation and getting experienced legal guidance. If you’ve been charged with a serious criminal offense here in Virginia, don’t hesitate to explore all your potential defenses.