Speedy Trials and DUI Cases: What Happens If the Commonwealth Doesn’t Prosecute Its Case in a Timely Manner?
Last year, we blogged about a defendant whose DUI case was allowed to proceed after a 26-year delay caused, in large part, by the defendant’s willful failure to appear for court proceedings. The defendant had attempted to argue that his constitutional right to a speedy trial had been violated.
Today, we examine the opposite situation. Can a DUI case proceed when the Commonwealth does not prosecute it in a timely manner? The Superior Court of Pennsylvania recently said “no.”
Numerous Legal Proceedings Scheduled
In Commonwealth v. Revak, a defendant was charged in January 2017 with DUI, driving with a suspended license, and unauthorized use of a motor vehicle. Over the next 22 months, numerous conferences and proceedings were scheduled in his case. The defendant failed to appear at some of them, while others were simply continued to another date. On Sept. 27, 2018, at a pre-trial conference the defendant sought dismissal of the charges, arguing that the Commonwealth had violated his right to a speedy trial. The trial court held a hearing in November 2018 in which it found that the Commonwealth had failed to exercise due diligence in prosecuting its case and dismissed all charges against the defendant. The Commonwealth appealed to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania.
Mechanical Run Date
In affirming the trial court’s ruling, the Superior Court first noted that a straightforward calculation of the 365-day period during which the defendant must be tried ― known as the “mechanical run date” ― expired on Jan. 10, 2018. However, the law provides that periods of a delay caused by certain conduct of the defendant are excludable from this computation. Additionally, any other delay that occurs despite the Commonwealth’s due diligence also is deemed excusable and results in further adjustments to the effective run date.
With respect to delay caused by the defendant, the trial court adjusted the run date by 221 days, to Aug. 19, 2018, to account for delays caused by his failure to show up at two pre-trial conferences as well as an application that he made to move the matter to drug treatment court. The Superior Court agreed with this calculation.
But with respect to delay caused by the Commonwealth, the trial court, and then the Superior Court, rejected the Commonwealth’s argument that at least 39 additional days (from the adjusted run date of Aug. 19, 2018 to the Sept. 27, 2018 hearing) were excludable and excusable because the Commonwealth had exercised due diligence in managing the case in a judicial system that was beyond its control.
In ruling against the Commonwealth, the Superior Court stated:
[The Commonwealth] presented no evidence or argument to substantiate its assertion or to support its contention that it could not have scheduled the trial for an earlier date. Moreover, the Commonwealth states that it acted diligently when listing the matter for trial, but the Commonwealth did not aver that it was prepared for trial.
Fortunately for the defendant, the DUI case will remain dismissed. This case underscores that there are many ways to defend against DUI charges that go beyond blood-alcohol content. As always, if you are arrested for DUI, or any other crime, it is imperative to retain a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney to ensure that your legal rights are protected and that you can mount a vigorous defense.