A disturbing case out of Louisiana highlighted one of the most important rights that you can have, once you've been charged with a crime: Your right to a speedy trial under the Sixth Amendment.
An Arrest and Drug Charges
The case began on February 11, 2010. State police and federal drug agents found small bags of crack cocaine inside a safe in the home of Kevin Smith. He was arrested and brought to jail to await trial for drug possession. Bail was usually $50,000 for such offenses, but Smith was out on parole from a prior drug charge, making pretrial release impossible under state law.
The earlier drug charge also raised the possibility that Smith could be convicted as a habitual offender, which would mean jail time of 20 years to life.
He pled not guilty to the charges and waited for trial.
Delay After Delay After Delay
The trial was set for August 9, 2011, but prosecutors discovered new evidence against Smith. They dropped the original charge and issued a new one, restarting the two-year statute of limitations.
The second trial date was August 29, 2012, but Hurricane Isaac hit the day before the trial was set to begin, closing the courthouse for several days.
In November of 2012, the case was transferred to a new judge, but somehow the case wasn't picked up again until May, 2013, in part because the new judge had inherited a huge backlog of cases.
In 2014, Smith's defense team wanted a mental competency exam, but there were delays in that, too, before they found he was competent to stand trial. When prosecutors pushed Smith to accept a 10-year plea deal, he refused, insisting that he was innocent and demanding a trial.
The law firm that was defending Smith had problems of its own: Four different attorneys represented Smith at some point in his case. Smith filed a motion on his own behalf for the trial to go forward, but both the defense and the prosecution said they weren't ready.
Motion to Dismiss for Violating Right to a Speedy Trial
Finally, in December, 2016, five and a half years after being arrested, Smith filed a second motion on his own behalf. He wanted his charges to be dismissed because his thought his right to a speedy trial had been violated. However, the new judge on the case disagreed, saying that Hurricane Isaac and Smith's own competency exam pushed the deadline for the case back four years.
When Smith's attorneys appealed to the Louisiana Appellate Court, however, the appeals judges overruled the trial judge, deciding that Smith's right to a speedy trial had, in fact, been violated. Smith had been in jail, waiting for his trial, for 2,832 days.
Maine Criminal Defense Attorney William T. Bly Protects Your Rights
This case from Louisiana is an excellent example of what happens when law enforcement and prosecutors are allowed to put off their case again and again. It is up to them to bring forward their best case within the statute of limitations, and the whole point of the statute is to let those charged with a crime to go about their lives, once again, when it passes.