Speedy Trial Delays

The following factors, as announced by the United States Supreme Court, must be weighed by a reviewing court to determine whether the defendant's constitutional right to a speedy trial has been violated: (1) the length of the delay; (2) the reason for the delay; (3) the defendant's assertion of his speedy trial right; (4) prejudice to the defendant from the delay. Barker, 407 U.S. 514, 530, 92 S. Ct. 2182, 33 L. Ed. 2d 101. No single factor is a "necessary or sufficient condition to the finding" of a speedy trial violation, and these factors "must be considered together with such other circumstances as may be relevant." Id. at 533, 92 S. Ct. 2182. Length of delay is a triggering mechanism so that a speedy trial claim will not be heard until passage of a prejudicial amount of time. Id. at 530, 92 S. Ct. 2182; Harris, 827 S.W.2d at 956. The length of delay is measured from the time of arrest or formal accusation. Marion, 404 U.S. at 313, 92 S. Ct. 455. The Supreme Court has recognized that lower courts have found a post-accusation delay, as it approached one year, to be presumptively prejudicial to trigger consideration of the remaining Barker factors. Doggett v. United States, 505 U.S. 647, 652 n. 1, 112 S. Ct. 2686, 120 L. Ed. 2d 520 (1992). The Court of Criminal Appeals has recognized that some courts presume a delay of eight months or more to be prejudicial. Harris, 827 S.W.2d at 956. Criminal defendants are entitled to a speedy trial under both federal and state constitutions. See U.S. Const. amend. VI; Tex. Const. art. I, 10. The speedy trial protections serve to assure an accused that the State will move with dispatch to dispose of the charges against him. United States v. Marion, 404 U.S. 307, 313, 92 S. Ct. 455, 459, 30 L. Ed. 2d 468 (1971). However, the mere passage of time between the commission of the crime and arrest is not a matter within the context of the speedy trial rights. Id. Only a formal indictment, information or arrest, requiring an accused to respond to a criminal charge, invokes the speedy trial protections. Id.; United States v. MacDonald, 456 U.S. 1, 6, 102 S. Ct. 1497, 1501, 71 L. Ed. 2d 696 (1982); United States v. Lovasco, 431 U.S. 783, 97 S. Ct. 2044, 52 L. Ed. 2d 752 (1977). The United States constitutional right to a speedy trial is applicable to state prosecutions. See Klopfer v. North Carolina, 386 U.S. 213, 222-23, 87 S. Ct. 988, 18 L. Ed. 2d 1 (1967); Harris v. State, 827 S.W.2d 949, 956 (Tex.Cr.App. 1992). Appellate review of the trial court's decision to grant or deny a speedy trial claim has two parts. We review the factual components by an abuse of discretion standard and the legal components of the trial court's decision de novo. Munoz, 991 S.W.2d at 821. Prior to an arrest or formal charge, the primary safeguard against prejudice arising from a lapse of time between the commission of a crime and an indictment or arrest is the due process protections afforded by statutes of limitation. United States v. Ewell, 383 U.S. 116, 86 S. Ct. 773, 15 L. Ed. 2d 627 (1966). Statutes of limitation "represent legislative assessments of relative interest of the state and the defendant in administering and receiving justice." Marion, 404 U.S. at 322, 92 S. Ct. at 464. Where the possibility of prejudice derives from delay before any arrest or formal charge, the defendant in a criminal case must first resort to the applicable statute of limitations. Id. at 323, 92 S. Ct. at 464. On occasion, statutes of limitation fail to provide the necessary due process protection by not fully defining a defendant's rights with respect to the events occurring prior to indictment. Id. at 324, 92 S. Ct. at 463; Lovasco, 431 U.S. at 789, 97 S. Ct. at 2048. This is particularly true with murder charges where there is no limitations period. However, due process has a limited role to play in protecting against oppressive delay and dismissal is required only if it is shown that the pre-indictment delay: (1) caused substantial prejudice to a defendant's rights; (2) that the delay was an intentional device used to gain a tactical advantage over the accused. Id.