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How long does it take to go to trial in Maryland for criminal cases?

Under Maryland law, which necessarily includes the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, a defendant charged with a crime enjoys two distinct  “speedy trial” rights. One is based on the 6th Amendment which provides: 

“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial....” 

The other is found in the Maryland Code, and is commonly referred to the as the “Hicks” rule. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that, whether an accused’s constitutional right to a speedy trial has been abridged must be determined on a case by case basis, and decided based on a consideration of four factors: 

  • length of delay 

  • reason for the delay 

  • the defendant's assertion of his right, and  

  • prejudice to the defendant 

     -Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514 (1972) 

So, there must have been some level of delay, or there would be no “speedy trial” analysis to begin. There is no set time frame, however, under this constitutional analysis. While the absence of prejudice to the defendant is not dispositive, under current law, and all factors are to be weighed, the inability to show prejudice from the delay can derail many speedy trial claims. It is possible that an extremely long delay can create a presumption of prejudice.  Doggett v. United States, 505 U.S. 647 (1992) (8 1/2 years). On the surface, it would make some degree of sense that a person being detained pretrial, and waiting trial, most certainly wants to be brought to trial as quickly as possible. That might not always be true. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court has noted “the inability of courts to provide a prompt trial has contributed to a large backlog of cases in urban courts which, among other things, enables defendants to negotiate more effectively for pleas of guilty to lesser offenses and otherwise manipulate the system."  Wingo, supra. A defendant leveraging the State’s inability to quickly try cases, in their favor, is one example of someone who might not necessarily want to be brought to trial promptly. 

Indeed,  the speedy trial right in the U.S. Constitution has some counterintuitive aspects. On the one hand, the idea that a person would be held for years by a lazy or disinterested government until they are brought to trial offends concepts of justice and fundamental fair dealing. Anyone would agree that person's “rights” have been violated.  The Amendment, however, deals with more than just the rights of an individual. The Supreme Court has noted that the people, generally, also have a strong interest in having cases brought promptly to trial. If cases are not quickly tried, the Wingo court noted that society also suffers a multitude of potential harms, including:  

  • “a large backlog of cases in urban courts” is likely 

  • "persons released on bond for lengthy periods awaiting trial have an opportunity to commit other crimes." 

  • “the longer an accused is free awaiting trial, the more tempting becomes his opportunity to jump bail and escape. “ 

  • “delay between arrest and punishment may have a detrimental effect on rehabilitation.” 

  • “rehabilitation of the individual offender [becomes] much more difficult."  

  • “the result may even be violent rioting.” 

  • “lengthy pretrial detention is costly. "

The other speedy trial right is found in substantive Maryland law. Under well known Maryland provision, the State must bring a defendant to trial before the 180th day after the first of:

  • The appearance of counsel, or

  • The first appearance of the defendant before the circuit court

     -Criminal Procedure Article §6-103 and Maryland Rule 4-271. 

This rule is popularly known as the "Hicks" deadline, and the corresponding try-by date the "Hicks" date. The rule is on its face clear, unambiguous, and seemingly mandatory. However, there is an exception allowing for a continuance of a case beyond the rigid 180-day boundary upon a showing of good cause.

The causes that have been considered adequate for postponement under this Hicks rule might come as a surprise to those incarcerated, without bail, awaiting trial.  

“[T]he unavailability of a judge, prosecutor, or courtroom – or general court congestion in a particular jurisdiction – could satisfy the good cause standard”.  

     -Anthony Marlin Tunnell v. State of Maryland No. 28, September Term 2019 

Moreover, like any other right, Hicks can be given up. Where defendant affirmatively seeks a continuance beyond 180 days, or does not appropriately oppose such a request, the requirements of the Rule will not apply.  “Dismissal of criminal charges would be “inappropriate” in situations where the defendant, personally or through counsel, seeks or expressly consents to a trial date that does not comply with the Hicks rule.”  Tunnell, supra. If a case is continued beyond the 180-day mark, a reviewing appellate court with employ a two-step process to determine if there has been a violation. Tunnell, supra.  “To assess the consequences of a postponement of a criminal trial past the Hicks date, courts have evaluated the delay in two steps: (1) Was there “good cause” for the administrative judge to grant a postponement of the scheduled trial date? (2) Was there an inordinate delay from the scheduled trial date to the new trial date in commencing the trial? See Rosenbach v. State, 314 Md. 473, 479-80 (1989); Frazier, 298 Md. at 448. An administrative judge’s determination that there is good cause for a continuance is “a discretionary matter, rarely subject to reversal upon review.” Frazier, 298 Md. at 451. The defendant must show an abuse of discretion or a lack of good cause as a matter of law. State v. Fisher, 353 Md. 297, 307 (1999).” Tunnell, supra.

Do criminal lawyers need special credentials to handle federal crimes?

No. A Maryland attorney needs no additional credentials to handle a Maryland federal criminal case beyond admission to the Maryland Bar, and admission to the federal court in which he or she wishes to handle the case. “Credentials” might mean different things to different people. At a minimum, any attorney licensed to practice law in Maryland will hold an undergraduate degree as well as a degree from an accredited law school and would have sat for, and passed, the Maryland Bar Examination. Beyond that, the credentials of a given attorney vary widely across the range of practitioners in terms of numbers of cases handled, types of cases, and the forum in which does cases were handled.

 


Can a criminal defense attorney represent me even if I am guilty of the charges?

Yes. All criminal defense attorneys take an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States and of the State of Maryland. As expressed in those documents, our citizens have the right to certain fundamental privileges and liberties including freedom from unwarranted intrusion upon their private affairs by the government. An attorney’s  obligation is to enforce, and vindicate the rights of his or her client. If the Government intrudes upon the liberties afforded by our founding documents, they may be unable to use evidence they have obtained in violation of that individual's rights to convict that person. Statements or physical evidence that is obtained in violation of the 4th 5th and 6th amendment cannot later be used to obtain the conviction of a defendant in a criminal trial. The role of a defense attorney in Maryland may be seen, in large part, as guaranteeing that the constitutional rights held by their clients are not violated by the State. Where there is a violation, that attorney must ensure that illegally, unconstitutionally, obtained evidence cannot be used against their clients. There is an old adage that every US citizen is ‘entitled’ to a defense. While there is no doubt that that's true, I've been of the opinion for many years that every citizen possesses certain rights that must be upheld no matter what the allegations, and vindicated where transgressed. That may lead to State being unable to prove their case. 

There are also twin fundamental rights every accused person enjoys: to be proven guilty only by substantial, meaningly evidence, and to be presumed innocent until that proof is convincingly demonstrated. An accused individual is guilty only if the State can prove that they're guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  If the State cannot meet that burden, whether based on the argument of counsel or the collective sense of justice of the jury, acquittal is appropriate. If over-reaching on the part of the government, taking the form of a constitutional violation of the accused’s rights, makes it impossible for the prosecution to prove their case an acquittal is likewise appropriate. 

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