Colorado Defendant’s Rights To A Speedy Trial As Applied To Misdemeanor Traffic Offenses
An individual charged with a Colorado misdemeanor traffic offense, or any other traffic criminal traffic matter, in a Colorado county criminal court, has the same rights to a speedy trial as others charged with committing a crime in Colorado. This right is set forth, in general, in both the United States Constitution and within the Colorado State Constitution with essentially the same wording. The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that in prosecutions that are criminal in nature the accused shall have the right to both a public trial and a speedy trial. Article II of the Colorado Constitution contains essentially the same guaranty to criminal defendants.
Colorado has enacted a statute, C.R.S. § 18-1-405, and also established Rule 48. of the Colorado Rules of Criminal Procedure. Both this statutory section, C.R.S. § 18-1-405, and the Rule 48. of the Colorado Rules of Criminal Procedure, using similar language, with similar provisions, specify specific standards for the calculation of speedy trial time periods and each set forth the enforcement mechanism, of a dismissal of the charges with prejudice, if a defendant’s rights to speedy trial are violated. The remedy for violation of a defendant’s rights to speedy trial is the dismissal of the charges brought against the accused, with prejudice, meaning that the charges can not be brought against the accused ever again based upon the previous allegations.
The benefits to a defendant are great in the event criminal charges are dismissed based upon a violation of a traffic defendant’s right to speedy trial. Courts are busy, with many issues to address, and it can sometimes occur that a defendant’s rights to speedy trial are arguably violated. Thus, it is incumbent, to an individual charged with a misdemeanor traffic offense in Colorado, to carefully calculate time periods and challenge any possible violation of the accused’s rights to speedy trial.
For Colorado misdemeanor traffic offense accusations an individual can choose to make an argument under either of two differing criteria, each employing a different legal analysis, available for an individual to assert a violation of the traffic court defendant’s right to speedy trial. The first is an argument for dismissal based directly upon a violation of an individual’s rights to a speedy trial as set forth in the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution and the corresponding Article II of the Colorado State Constitution, as those provisions have been interpreted by applicable case law. The second is to argue a violation of the specific Colorado statute C.R.S. § 18-1-405 and the analogous Rule 48 of the Colorado state rule of criminal procedure. The constitutional criteria is more vague and subjective, with the judge having discretion to interpret and apply the law regarding a defendant’s speedy trial rights. The state law, and corresponding state rule of criminal procedure, includes specific time frames and more objective, rather than subjective criteria.
If a motion is made to dismiss, based upon a constitutional claim to a violation of a defendant’s rights to speedy trial, the judge is to review and apply four criteria. The four criteria are: i) the extent of the delay; ii) the reasons for the delay; the timeliness of defendant’s demand for a speedy trial, and iv) the prejudice to the accused of a misdemeanor traffic offense.
Although an individual accused in a traffic violation case can bring a motion to dismiss based directly on a violation of an accused’s constitutional rights to speedy trial most such motion in Colorado are based upon the more specific criteria set forth in C.R.S. § 18-1-405, and Rule 48. of the Colorado Rules of Criminal Procedure .
C.R.S. § 18-1-405, and Rule 48. of the Colorado Rules of Criminal Procedure, provide that a defendant must be brought to trial within six (6) months of the entry of a plea of not guilty. Contrary to popular belief, the date charges are brought against an individual, accused in a traffic case, is not relevant, the beginning date for computation of a violation of rights to a speedy trial is the date a person, accused of a misdemeanor traffic offense, enters a plea of not guilty before the Court.
The six (6) month period, that applies to all Colorado county court misdemeanor traffic offense cases, initially seems simple enough to compute, however, there are many nuances that cause the time period to be extended, often substantially. In the event the defendant requests a continuance beyond the initial date set for a Colorado county court traffic trial the speedy trial calculation starts again for a six (6) month period from the date of the continuance requested by the defendant. In the event the prosecutor requests that a date for trial be continued, to a date beyond the six (6) month period, the defendant can, at the appropriate time, assert a breach of his or her speedy trial rights. However, if the prosecutor requests a continuance, and the defendant agrees, the speedy trial calculation is set for the new extended, agreed upon, date.
A prosecutor can, under C.R.S. § 18-1-405, and Rule 48. of the Colorado Rules of Criminal Procedure request a continuance beyond the six month period, and that will not violate the defendant’s rights to speedy trial, if: i) despite the exercise by the prosecutor of due diligence to obtain necessary material evidence, the evidence deemed material to the trial is not available, and, in addition, there are reasonable grounds to believe that the material evidence will be available in the not distant future; and ii) in felony cases, but only in felony cases, there exist exceptional circumstances, as determined by the judge, whereby the prosecutor needs additional time to prepare the prosecution’s case against the defendant.
To move for a dismissal based upon a violation of speedy trial the defendant must move for such a dismissal prior to entry of a plea of guilty or prior to the commencement of a trial. After pleading guilty, or after commencement of a trial, the defendant can no longer assert a violation of speedy trial rights. There are other pitfalls for an accused who asserts a violation of the defendant’s rights to speedy trial in a misdemeanor traffic offense case in Colorado. A primary pitfall, for the unwary defendant, is that, if a trial date is offered by the Court, which is beyond the timeline for speedy trial, and the defendant accepts that trial date, a person accused of committing a Colorado misdemeanor traffic offense cannot thereafter assert a violation of the defendant’s rights to speedy trial base upon that accepted trial date.
There are various other issue that can arise that would cause a delay in the required deadline date for a trial, such as for instance, the period of delay caused by an interlocutory appeal, or when a defendant in a misdemeanor traffic offense case is absent or unavailable for a trial. Other causes, for an extension of a required trial date, is if the accused is deemed incompetent to stand trial or is under observation or examination anytime after the issue of insanity or incompetency is raised. When a defendant’s trial is joined with another defendant, and there is not good cause to sever the two cases, and the speedy trial rights of the other defendant have not expired by operation of law, the first defendant cannot assert a violation of his or her rights to speedy trial until, and unless, the seconds defendant’s rights to speedy trial are also violated. Extensions to speedy trial can also be invoked if there is consideration of changing counties for venue of the trial or the county for trial has actually been changed. There is also an automatic three (3) month extension of speedy trial deadline in the event the Court declares a mistrial in a trial that has previously commenced.
A violation of speedy trial rights can result in a complete dismissal of all charges brought against the Colorado county court traffic ticket defendant. However, the nuances and issues are complex, and open to interpretation, such that qualified legal counsel should be consulted prior to anyone attempting to make such a claim for dismissal based upon a violation of a defendant’s rights to speedy trial.
Legal Disclaimer – The information contained at this web site is not intended to be legal advice and all information regarding Colorado traffic law is general content only and should not be relied upon for any specific Colorado traffic law situation. Information on this web site is not intended to cover all the issues, nuances or ramifications related to the topic discussed. This web site may not be updated routinely to reflect the most current Colorado traffic law.