A defendant's constitutional speedy trial claims must be analyzed under the rubric of Barker. Under Barker's four-part balancing test, the appellate court must consider: (1) the length of the delay, (2) reasons for the delay, (3) the defendant's assertion of the right to a speedy trial, and (4) the prejudice to the defendant. Standing alone, none of these factors are necessary to a finding of deprivation of the right to a speedy trial, but they should be considered together in a balancing test. Barker establishes a balancing test in which the conduct of both the prosecution and the defendant are weighed.
Defendants were indicted for murder. The State moved to disqualify the defender’s office from representing defendants due to a conflict of interest. Defendants requested for time to obtain an informal advisory opinion from the State Bar of Georgia on the issue. Almost four months later, the defender’s office received the opinion. Counsel from the defender’s office withdrew, but a new counsel was appointed in less than a month. By the time the case was set for a trial, a total of 18 months had elapsed since defendants' arrest. Defendants moved to dismiss their indictments on the ground that their constitutional rights to a speedy trial had been violated. The trial court denied the motions. On defendants’ appeal, the state supreme court affirmed the trial court’s judgment.
Did the trial court abuse its discretion in denying defendants' motion to dismiss their indictments based on alleged violations of their rights to a speedy trial?
The trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying defendants' motion to dismiss their indictments. The presumptive prejudice arising from any delay in bringing defendants to trial was insufficient for them to prevail on their constitutional speedy trial claims. The State's attorney made his best effort to bring about the prompt appointment of new counsel after counsel from the defender's office withdrew from the case, and the trial court acted promptly to ensure that replacement counsel was appointed. A four-month delay had to be attributed to defendants. Defendants did not assert their rights until sixteen months after the date of their arrest. They failed to show that they were subjected to an oppressive incarceration or that they suffered from any unusual level of anxiety beyond that which was normally associated with incarceration in general. No witnesses had died or disappeared, there was no evidence that witnesses had lost their memories, and the defense strategy remained unchanged. Defendants did not show that being without counsel for less than a month out of the 18 months before their scheduled trial harmed their defense.