The Constitution in this country gives those accused of a criminal charge the right to a speedy trial. This means that the government must prosecute the case quickly and avoid unnecessary delay. In some cases, charges are filed but the accused is unaware of the case because he or she is no longer in the country. In these cases, the prosecutor must make reasonable efforts to effectuate the defendants right to a speedy trial.
In this case, the courts denied the motion to dismiss on the grounds that the district attorney failed to prosecute the case within constitutional parameters. Here are the facts, courtesy of CCAP: In 1976, a complaint alleging murder was filed against appellant and a warrant for his arrest issued. After October 1976, the police made no efforts to find appellant until 2009 when they received a tip from the FBI that appellant was in Texas. He was located and arrested and returned to California. Following two mistrials, he was convicted of first degree murder in 2011 at his third trial. On appeal, appellant contended that the 33-year delay between the filing of the criminal complaint and his arrest violated his state right to a speedy trial and his state and federal due process rights.
The appeals court upheld the conviction for the following reasons: The California Constitution guarantees the right to a speedy trial. Due process of law also bars prejudicial delay in bringing a defendant to trial. Both rights are triggered with the filing of the complaint. To prevail on either of these grounds, the defendant must first show prejudice caused by the delay and, if he does, the burden shifts to the prosecution to justify the delay. The court then balances the harm against the justification. However, a defendant who flees the jurisdiction of a court for purposes of avoiding prosecution waives the right to a speedy trial and the balancing test does not come into play. The court rejected appellant’s argument that he did not waive this right because he did not know charges were pending against him until he was arrested. Here, substantial evidence was presented at the preliminary hearing that appellant was aware that he was subject to prosecution when he fled to Mexico immediately following the killing. Although charges had not been filed against appellant when he fled, his actions after the killing demonstrated his knowledge that he would be prosecuted for the murder and he actively sought to avoid this result.
At this point, the defendant will have to pursue his claims in the California Supreme Court or file appeals in the federal courts in order to seek relief.