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Law School Case Brief

Serna v. Superior Court - 40 Cal. 3d 239, 219 Cal. Rptr. 420, 707 P.2d 793 (1985)

Rule:

The defendant in a criminal cause has the right to a speedy public trial. In a misdemeanor prosecution, that right attaches under the Cal. Const. when a criminal complaint is filed.

Facts:

Petitioner Joaquin Mario Serna was charged by a misdemeanor complaint filed in the municipal court on September 29, 1978, with violation of Penal Code section 508, embezzlement. Petitioner was arrested on February 16, 1983. He sought dismissal of his case on grounds that a more than four-year delay between the filing of the complaint and his arrest denied both his state and federal constitutional rights to a speedy trial. When the municipal court denied his motion to dismiss without a hearing, he sought a writ of mandate in trial court to compel the municipal court to grant the motion. The trial court denied the petition, and petitioner sought further review in the state Supreme Court, pursuant to Code Civ. Proc., § 904.1, subd. (a).

Issue:

Was the more than four-year delay between petitioner’s arrest and his misdemeanor trial prejudicial to his right to a speedy trial?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

Rversing the order on appeal, the Supreme Court of California held that, pursuant to U.S. Const. 6th Amend., an accused misdemeanant's right to a speedy trial would attach with the filing of the accusatory pleading (complaint) or arrest, whichever came first. The Court held that, under a Sixth Amendment analysis, a more than four-year delay in arresting defendant was presumptively prejudicial based on the one-year statute of limitations applicable to misdemeanors. Thus, in the case at bar, the municipal court erred in failing to receive evidence relevant to resolving petitioner's motion to dismiss by weighing the interests of the petitioner and the prosecution to determine whether petitioner’s speedy trial rights were violated. The Court also held that the trial court abused its discretion in denying the petition for writ of mandate and prohibition to compel the municipal court to hold a hearing, since petitioner offered evidence establishing a presumptively prejudicial delay, which evidence was undisputed by the prosecution, and since the trial court failed to require the prosecution to justify the delay.

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