Speedy Trial Motions
Defendants who have been charged with Los Angeles criminal offenses have a right to a speedy trial that is guaranteed by both the U.S. and California Constitutions. When a defendant’s right to a speedy trial has been violated as the result of an extensive delay, the defendant can file a motion to dismiss due to a lack of a speedy prosecution. These motions are commonly referred to as Serna motions after the 1985 California Supreme Court decision in Serna v. Superior Court. The Court in Serna held that an unjustified delay can be a violation of a defendant’s Constitutional speedy trial rights and can provide grounds for dismissal. These motions can involve complex legal issues and should be handled exclusively by an experienced Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney.
When considering a motion to dismiss for a speedy trial violation, it is important to understand when speedy trial rights begin. For misdemeanor offenses, a defendant’s speedy trial rights start upon the filing of the complaint or when the defendant is arrested if he or she is not immediately released and is subject to a bail requirement or travel restrictions.
For felony level offenses, a defendant’s Serna rights begin when the defendant is arrested, a defendant is held to answer following his or her preliminary hearing or after an indictment or information is filed. Under the California Constitution, Serna rights commence at the time a felony complaint is filed.
For many misdemeanor cases, the defendant will be released and will be provided a future court date. In some cases, the defendant will sign a written promise to appear in court for his or her arraignment date. In other cases, the prosecution or arresting agency will send the defendant a letter regarding the arraignment date or will file the case as an arrest warrant that would allow law enforcement to arrest and detain the defendant and bring him or her to court.
Law enforcement agencies often will not treat misdemeanor warrants as high priorities and often will not actively look for the defendant. In many cases, warrants are discovered during routine traffic stops or other unrelated police contact. Because of this, many misdemeanor defendants with active warrants can go several years without even knowing that the warrant exists. This is especially true when the complaint was filed as an arrest warrant or where the police failed to notify the defendant of his or her arraignment date. The Department of Motor Vehicles is supposed to place a hold on a defendant’s license when he or she misses court and a warrant is issued, however this does not always happen. Defendants may be able to repeatedly renew their license or apply for licenses in other states without any holds. For many people with warrants, the existence of the warrant is only discovered after a criminal background check is completed by an employer or potential landlord.
In these cases, the defendant may file a Serna motion asking the judge to dismiss the case for lack of speedy prosecution. In making a determination, the Court will consider factors such as the length of the delay involved, the reason for the delay, whether or not the defendant had previously demanded a speedy trial and any prejudice that may have occurred as a result of the delay.
A substantial delay can cause a significant amount of prejudice to the defendant. There may be difficulty in locating defense witnesses and any witnesses may have difficulty remembering the incident if too much time has passed. In addition, the defendant may have difficulty remembering the offense which would certainly make it harder to mount a successful defense. The Court will often want to know what steps the prosecution or police took to locate the defendant. If the Court ultimately finds that the delay was unjustified, the defendant’s Serna motion will be granted and the case will be dismissed.
If you believe that you may have an old warrant or an unresolved criminal case, it is crucial that you discuss your situation with a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Lawyer immediately. As a former Deputy District Attorney with over 14 years of prosecutorial experience, Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Michael Kraut understands how to effectively argue Serna motions on behalf of his clients and has had extensive success in litigating these issues.
For more information about Los Angeles speedy trial motions, contact Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Michael Kraut at the Kraut Law Group located at 6255 Sunset Boulevard, Suite 1520, Los Angeles, CA 90028. Mr. Kraut can be reached 24/7 at 888-334-6344 or 323-464-6453.