Is the DA Out of Time? Your “Speedy Trial” Right in Pennsylvania

Alfonso Gambone
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A Philadelphia criminal defense attorney representing accused persons throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Your “Speedy Trial” RightPennsylvania Rule of Criminal Procedure 600 guarantees the right to a speedy trial for all criminal defendants. This Rule, however, is often misunderstood because clients assume that every day that passes counts for the purposes of Rule 600. This is simply incorrect and clients are often upset when I explain how time is calculated under the Rule.

In Pennsylvania, the Commonwealth (District Attorney) is required to bring a criminal defendant to trial no later than 365 days after a criminal complaint is filed if the person isn’t in custody. If the person is in custody, the Commonwealth must proceed to trial no later than 180 days after the complaint is filed. A countable day for the purposes of the Rule include weekends and holidays but there is much more to the Speedy Trial Clock concept.

There are usually some delays before trial all delays aren’t counted against the Commonwealth. The only days that count are those dates in which the Commonwealth “fails to exercise due diligence”. If, for instance, you or your defense attorney were to request a continuance the number of days between the day the continuance was granted and the court date are excluded for the purposes of Rule 600. Clients incorrectly believe that defense continuances are included in either the 180 day rule or the 365 day rule (out of custody) but this is simply wrong. There is not usually much argument over whether a day counts toward Rule 600 but when there is an argument the judge decides the issue. A criminal defense attorney who isn’t satisfied with the judge’s ruling may obviously appeal the decision but if the attorney never raises the issue the appellate courts will deem it waived which means you can’t raise it on appeal. You may, however, have an ineffective assistance of counsel issue.

Exercising due diligence means that the District Attorney did everything to bring the case to trial but the case could not proceed due to other cases on the court’s calendar, the weather, or something out of the District Attorney’s control. While many defense attorneys may ask for continuances it is important to understand that these continuances are never included in either the 180 day or 365 day rule and this is why criminal cases frequently go on for 1, 2, or even 3 or 4 years but yet never violate the Speedy Trial clock. If Rule 600, however, is violated without good cause, your criminal defense attorney may make a motion to the court requesting that the charges be dismissed (Rule 600 A) with prejudice. Even if charges aren’t dismissed your defense attorney can also file a motion for nominal bail under Rule 600 B if you are in custody 180 days after the criminal complaint is filed. The right to release under Rule 600 B, however, is not automatic and the District Attorney frequently argues that the court shouldn’t grant release on nominal bail because the person is a flight risk or a danger to the community.  These Rules of Criminal Procedure apply to felony and misdemeanor charges and uniform in all counties including Philadelphia, Delaware and Montgomery.

There is sometimes a good reason or a strategic purpose for requesting a continuance but it’s important to understand why your attorney is doing it. If you have questions about criminal defense concepts, I encourage you to call our office and visit our free download section.  I have also recorded over 30 instructional videos on a variety of topic.

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