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Bill rewrites speedy trials rule

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Bill rewrites speedy trials rule

Senior Editor

A bill that would repeal and replace the criminal procedure rule dealing with speedy trials has cleared a Florida House committee.

HB 1517 was approved March 22 by the Criminal and Civil Justice Policy Council, its only substantive committee of reference in the lower chamber.

Rep. Eric Eisnaugle It was sent to the House floor by the Rules and Calendar Committee on April 1.

The bill would repeal Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.191, according to co-sponsor Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, R-Orlando, and allow prosecutors facing a speedy trial deadline to drop charges against a defendant and refile at a later date. Since the bill seeks to repeal a procedural rule approved by the Supreme Court, Eisnaugle said it will require a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate.

He said the current rule goes far beyond what is required constitutionally.

“This bill does not impact constitutional rights at all. What it says is we are not going to have a rule which allows murder defendants and other defendants to walk out the door without ever facing a jury,” he said. “One time is way too many. This bill may not be perfect, but it’s way better than the rule we have.”

Eisnaugle recited two murder cases from Orange County from the mid-’90s where the defendants were released under the speedy trial rule. The cases involved disputes about the actual date of arrests. The rule requires that felony cases go to trial within 175 days of arrest. Misdemeanors must be brought to trial in 90 days.

Eisnaugle said his bill, which is co-sponsored by Rep. Ari Porth, D-Ft. Lauderdale, would not start the clock ticking until a prosecutor files charges. It would also allow prosecutors to drop the charges with the right to refile if they were not ready for trial within the bill’s deadlines, although they would be limited to one refiling, he said. Under the current rule, the defendant must file a notice indicating the speedy trial requirements are not being met and prosecutors then have 15 days — called the recapture window — to get the case scheduled for trial, he said.

Sixth Circuit PD Bob Dillinger, appearing on behalf of the Florida Public Defender Association, said there was no need for the bill.

“This is just not an issue. To make a revolutionary change of this nature is going to inject a lot of confusion,” he said, adding there’s no difficulty determining when an arrest has been made for purposes of the speedy trial rule.

“Under this version, the state attorney.. . has absolutely no reason to speed this time process up,” he added. “This is not just a minor change to the speedy trial rule. This is a major change to the laws of the state of Florida which have been around for a while.”

Neither Eisnaugle nor Dillinger was sure how often the rule is actually used, although Dillinger said it is a rare occurrence. Eisnaugle noted three murder cases where it was used in the ’90s, and noted another six cases in its analysis of the bill mentioned by staff.

The bill would not affect the constitutional right to a speedy trial, Eisnaugle said.

“On the constitutional right to a speedy trial, the Supreme Court has held there is no way to say that is a certain number of days,” he said. “As I understand the rule, it is based on prejudice to the defendant. If there is a delay such that a defendant’s rights are prejudiced, then there is a speedy trial issue.”

Rep. Michael Weinstein, R-Orange Park, praised the bill, saying sophisticated cases require more time.

“What happens is the more scientific our analysis becomes with DNA, we run up against speedy trial concerns,” he said. “We are in fact having a lot of problems with the more sophisticated cases we are trying.”

Rep. Kevin Ambler, R-Tampa, said the bill could have unintended consequences. He noted many times those charged with crimes, when the charges are ultimately dismissed, have those records sealed. Extending speedy trial deadlines would result in some of those cases remaining open longer, delaying the sealing, and affecting the ability of those citizens to find jobs.

“It’s got too broad a dragnet in it, and there are too many open issues,” Ambler said.

Rep. Carl Domino, R-Juno Beach, said he was concerned because the staff analysis said that a defendant released under the speedy trial rule for a relatively minor offense would also be immune from any more serious charges stemming from the same incident which might be discovered later by authorities.

Rep. Perry Thurston, D-Ft. Lauderdale, said with around 600,000 criminal cases filed annually, there’s no evidence the speedy trial rule is causing a problem.

“Clearly, this is the type of incident that if someone was in your jurisdiction being released, you would know,” he said. “This is another situation where we have a solution looking for a problem.”

The bill was subject to some procedural maneuvering. The committee rejected an attempt by Rep. James Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, to table the bill before the vote.

After the vote on the bill, Waldman, who voted for it, tried to move bringing the bill back for reconsideration at the committee’s next meeting. He argued that the bill has far- reaching impacts and the council was the only committee of reference before the Rules and Calendar Committee puts it on the agenda for the full House.

But Committee Chair Rep. William D. Snyder, R-Stuart, recognized Rep. Doug Holder, R-Sarasota, first, and Holder moved to immediately report the bill out of the council, which requires a two-thirds vote. That also passed 13 to 3.

As approved by the council, the bill would amend F.S. §918.015. The provision currently provides that the Florida Supreme Court by rule will set procedures to carry out the right to a speedy trial as provided in the Florida Constitution in Article 1, Subsection 16.

The new bill makes a specific finding that the rule approved by the court, Criminal Procedure Rule 3.191, “is substantive in character in every respect where it compels strict enforcement of time periods for prosecutions of persons accused of crimes, where it grants the benefits of its provisions to persons upon arrest or service of a notice to appear, regardless of whether formal charges are filed, where it continues application of the time limitations where the state enters a nolle prosequi of the charge, and where it operates to circumvent and preclude the filing for formal charges within the statute of limitations for appropriate offenses.”

It also said that the bill replaces the rule anywhere it would “expand, alter, or enlarge the constitutional right to speedy trial.. . . ”

The current rule provides a speedy trial limit of 90 days for misdemeanors, and 175 days for felonies. HB 1517 adopts a more complex system with the starting date when charges are filed by the state attorney. The limits would be:

• 90 days for misdemeanors.

• 180 days for first, second, or third degree felonies.

• 275 days for felonies that carry up to a life sentence.

• 365 days for a capital felony.

In the current rule, when a defendant files a motion for a speedy trial, the trial must be set within 60 days for a misdemeanor and 120 days for a felony. Under the bill, the limit would be 60 days for a misdemeanor, 120 days for a first, second, or third degree felony, 190 days for a first degree felony punishable by up to life in prison, and 275 days for a capital felony.

The bill provides if a defendant brings a motion for dismissal under the rule and the judge finds it appropriate, the dismissal will be without prejudice unless the defendant can show by clear and convincing evidence his or her rights have been affected, such as the unavailability of evidence or witnesses.

On cases dismissed without prejudice, the state has up to the statute of limitations on the underlying crime to refile the charges. The state must retry such refiled cases within 60 days for misdemeanors and 120 days for felonies.

“It’s going to have a significant effect on how we calendar cases and move cases and which cases are discharged,” said Fleur Lobree, chair of the Bar’s Criminal Procedure Rules Committee.

Instead of a hard-and-fast rule that specifies a time for bringing a trial, each case would require a separate analysis of when constitutional rights are affected by a delay, she said.

The bill, if approved, could also face legal challenges. Lobree said while the bill makes a specific finding that Rule 3.191 is substantive instead of procedural, the legislation then gets involved in nuts and bolts procedural matters.

“This proposed bill is significantly procedural in nature,” she said. “The [legislative] staff analysis recognizes that portions of the bill may be unconstitutional and usurp the court’s authority.”

While the Legislature has final say on substantive matters, procedural issues are the purview of the Supreme Court.

The court also has ruled in previous cases that dismissing a case and then refilling it — specifically allowed in the bill — cannot be used to avoid speedy trial deadlines, she said.

Even if the law passes and is upheld, Lobree said the committee will have to redraft Rule 3.191 to address the constitutional issues relating to speedy trial rights.

As this News went to press, HB 1517 had not been scheduled for the floor of the House. If passed, its fate would be uncertain, as no companion bill has been filed in the Senate.

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