By RICHARD MEEHAN
The Cool Justice Report
Aug. 9, 2008
EDITOR'S NOTE: This column is available for reprint courtesy of The Cool Justice Report, http://cooljustice.blogspot.com
My Dad grew up on the east side of Bridgeport, in a pretty tough neighborhood.
He was fond of telling me that there was a saying on the east side that if you went looking for a fight you usually got your butt kicked. Never one to provoke a confrontation, as both a cop and a lawyer, he never ran from a fight. I heard that saying of his most often when he would recount a tale about some jailhouse lawyer advising a client of ours that he should be filing a motion for speedy trial.
The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides, in part: "In all prosecutions the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial." In the federal system the Speedy Trial Act, 18 United States Code § 3161, governs the application of this right. That statute requires that a trial must commence within 70 days from the filing date of the indictment or the date the accused first appears in court, whichever is later. There are certain periods of time that can be excluded from this computation; and, if a judge finds that it is in the interests of justice to continue the matter, the defendant may waive the time limits, in writing. The most common reason for continuing the trial date is to allow the defense adequate time to prepare.
In our state system Article 1, section 8 of our state constitution, guarantees the same speedy trial rights. A defendant cannot invoke his speedy trial rights until the passage of certain prescribed time periods. Those time periods differ depending on whether an accused is free on bond. Those being held in jail receive preference for assignment for trial. Failure to grant an accused a speedy trial, upon request, can lead to a dismissal of the charges.
Twenty seven states recognize that victims of crime also have speedy trial rights. Connecticut is one of 12 states that had amended its state constitution to preserve the victim's speedy trial interest. Repeated delays in the process impact a victim's recollection, and prevent victims from reaching emotional closure.
Alaska's 84 year-old senator, Ted Stevens, was indicted recently for failing to list a claimed quarter million dollars in gifts and home renovations from an oil contractor on federal disclosure forms. Stevens is a powerful figure in the capitol, and his senate seat is hotly contested in this year's election.
In an unprecedented legal move, Stevens asked that his case be tried before the upcoming election. The U. S. Attorney's office informed the judge that they were ready to proceed, and a trial date has been set for September 24th. The government investigation had been ongoing for a substantial period of time, giving the prosecution a decided advantage.
In most instances, an arrest is the first a potential defendant learns of the accusations lodged against him or her. Preparing to defend such cases in a matter of several months is nearly impossible in all but the simplest of charges. In public corruption cases, however, the existence of a grand jury investigation is usually known long before an indictment is returned, giving the accused the opportunity to begin preparing a defense before an actual arrest occurs.
For the senator 's defense the task is formidable as it is reported that the material developed in the investigation is voluminous. His attorney remarked to the court that this was the first time in his career he had filed a speedy trial request. Maybe he should have grown up on the east side of Bridgeport, he might have known better.
Bridgeport attorney Richard Meehan Jr. was the lead defense counsel for former Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim's corruption trial. Meehan is certified as a criminal trial specialist by the National Board of Trial Advocacy since 1994 and serves on the organizations Board of Examiners. He is a Charter Fellow, Litigation Counsel of America -- Trial Lawyer Honorary Society. Meehan has also obtained multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements in complex medical and dental malpractice and personal injury litigation. He is a past president of the Greater Bridgeport Bar Association and appears regularly on Court TV. Website, www.meehanlaw.com