Fast Lane To Justice: Your right to a speedy trial in Minnesota

Speedy Trial Rights in Minnesota

The right to a speedy trial isn’t one of the most appealing-sounding rights out there. It can sound almost like it’s simply the “right” to have your trial and potential fine and/or prison sentence handed down sooner. But, you shouldn’t discount this right entirely if you’ve recently been charged with a crime. Having a long delay between being charged and going to trial can have serious consequences both for your life and for your mental well-being. Having the prospect of a criminal trial looming over your head can impede a job application, affect your relationships with your family, and cause significant emotional stress.

Because of these (and other) negative consequences of a delayed trial, speedy trial rights are guaranteed to Minnesota residents by the United States constitution, the Minnesota constitution, and Minnesota law. Your constitutional rights to a speedy trial come in the form of a general guarantee that you shall “enjoy the right to a speedy trial.” Try to put aside your doubt over whether anyone has ever actually “enjoyed” their right to a speedy trial!

Our state law guarantee of a speedy trial is more specific; Minnesota law provides that, absent exigent circumstances, you have to be tried within 120 days of pleading not guilty or within 60 days of demanding a trial. If your speedy trial rights were violated and you are later convicted of the crime you were charged with, the speedy trial violation can be grounds for overturning your conviction.

However, even if your trial doesn’t take place within the statutory period, that doesn’t automatically mean that your speedy trial rights were violated. Although a court will presume that your speedy trial rights were violated if your trial doesn’t happen within 60 days of your demand for trial, the court will also look at whose fault the delay was. In other words, you can’t delay your own trial and then try to benefit from that delay.

The issue of a defendant’s speedy trial rights came up in Minnesota recently when DeAngelos DeManye Cook sought to have his conviction for cocaine sales overturned. Cook was convicted and sentenced to an 88-month prison term by a court in Blue Earth County, but only after more than a year of trial delays. Appealing his conviction, Cook argued that his speedy trial right had been violated because his trial hadn’t taken place within the 60-day period after he demanded a trial. The Minnesota Court of Appeals noted that some of the delay was at least in part the state’s fault, since two prosecution witnesses were unavailable at one point, but the court ultimately disagreed with Cook’s arguments and found that one of the delays was Cook’s fault, since trial was delayed because Cook’s attorney had a scheduling conflict, and that the other delays (illness of a prosecutor and grant of a mistrial) were for good cause and didn’t merit finding that Cook’s speedy trial rights had been violated.

What Cook’s case shows is that the determination of whether your speedy trial rights have been violated is always a complicated balancing act. Certain aspects of Cook’s claim did favor a finding that his right to a speedy trial was violated, but when weighed as a whole, the circumstances did not warrant overturning Cook’s conviction. For that reason, whether or not you have a good case on appeal of a conviction, based on a speedy trial argument, is rarely a straightforward question.

Kohlmeyer Hagen, Law Office Chtd.
Mankato, Minnesota

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