Speedy Trial

The News and Observer ran a story recently — available here — about the length of time it takes to resolve murder cases in North Carolina. The average time to disposition was 528 days last year. That figure includes cases resolved by plea or dismissal, suggesting that the average time to trial is probably longer. The story included a thoughtful Q&A with Jim Cooney and Colon Willoughby, who identified factors such as the large number of cases that are declared potentially capital at a Rule 24 hearing, the volume of discovery that’s common in murder cases, and the difficulty of coordinating schedules to set trial dates, especially in multi-defendant trials.

One factor that wasn’t mentioned in the article is North Carolina’s lack of a speedy trial statute. Of course, North Carolina defendants have constitutional speedy trial rights under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments. But those rights generally don’t “kick in” until a year has passed, at which point, courts apply a four-factor test to determine whether a defendant’s constitutional speedy trial rights have been compromised. See, e.g., State v. Washington, __ N.C. App. __ (2008) (listing factors and vacating a conviction after a delay of four years and nine months).

North Carolina’s lack of a statutory speedy trial scheme stands in contrast to, for example, the federal system, where 18 U.S.C. s. 3161(c)(1) requires that trial begin within 70 days of indictment, subject to certain exceptions and exclusions. The leading criminal law treatise indicates that “all but a few” states have speedy trial statutes. 4 Wayne R. LaFave et al., Criminal Procedure, s. 18.3(c) (2d ed. 1999). My anecdotal sense is that most of those statutes set time limits far shorter than one year, i.e., that most of the statutes are more protective of a defendant’s speedy trial right than is the Constitution.

Interestingly, North Carolina used to have a speedy trial statute. Former G.S. 15A-701 et seq., the Speedy Trial Act, “required that the defendant be tried within 120 days of the date the defendant was arrested, served with criminal process, waived indictment or was indicted, whichever occurred last, unless that time was extended by certain specified events.” State v. Willis, 332 N.C. 151, 162 (1992). However, the Speedy Trial Act was repealed in 1989. I don’t know why that was done, and since the General Assembly doesn’t record floor debates and usually provides very limited records of committee hearings, I doubt that there’s an official record explaining the reason for the repeal. If I’m wrong about that, please let me know — and if anyone can remember the scuttlebutt about the repeal from 1989, please chime in about why it happened.

Obviously, a speedy trial statute wouldn’t be a panacea for delays, some of which are inevitable, and perhaps desirable, in complex cases. Further, if Mr. Willoughby is correct that most delays come from the defense side, giving the defendant a speedy trial right wouldn’t address the root of the concern. (But some speedy trial statutes bind both sides.) In any case, it’s at least worth considering whether the absence of such a statute contributes to delays. Thoughts? Opinions? Comments?

Update: The United States Supreme Court just decided a speedy trial case, Vermont v. Brillon, available here.  The gist of the case is that delays sought by court-appointed counsel are normally attributable to the defendant — because that is who counsel represents — not to the state.

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44 comments on “Speedy Trial

  1. The continuances should come from the defense. I would hope that no prosecutor would ever indict without have done a thorough and complete investigation. It is then the defense’s turn to start preparing and that is when it is discovered that more needs to be done, hence the requests for more time.

    • No it is not coming from the defense side in Lincolnton NC. Absolutely no criticism of the sheriff and the homeland security fear tactics will be tolerated either. The accused are treated like convicted criminals, jobs are lost, lives ruined. This is my first and last contact with the way Lincoln county goverment is handled. My daughter has waited for almost two years, for a crime she did not participate in, yet we have paid money to the IRS in the thousands for her to keep her car. Many court dates and “roll calls”have come and gone. I posted a comment to an online newspaper and was called by a deputy to remove it, how did he have my unlisted telephone number? I refused the deputy removed it himself,how? What rights are left and do we have any in Lincoln county NC?? Carpenter and his uneducated mob squad need to go. They want to be Marines, let them join the service.

      • This story is so unfortunate but much more common in NC than you would think. My nephew who had just turned 18 at the time, was arrested for breaking and entering (and attempted murder because the family was home). When the son of the home got his hands on a gun, my nephew and his accomplice RAN from the home. The accomplice was shop in the butt and dropped in the driveway. My nephew fled and was later arrested. Although they have NO WEAPON, AND HE FLED THE SCENE; HE IS BEING HELD UNDER $1 MILLION DOLLAR BOND AND HAS BE SITTING, AWAITING TRIAL FOR 6 YEARS! SOMEONE EXPLAIN THIS ONE TO ME PLEASE…

        • NC courts and most government agencies are overloaded and complacent. It seams as though they can do no wrong. A time limit should be REQUIRED!!

          • I agree 100%. Davidson County is famous for delays. My son turned himself in on a bogus rape charge and is still waiting. There is no physical evidence and still he sits there in a jail that needs to be condemned.
            How does NC. get away with this?
            They should be ashamed. All this has created a domino effect on our family.
            I’m 66 yrs old and now homeless!
            I have put everything I have into my son’s survival and still he waits.
            The Humane Society has better care for animals than the Davidson County Jail. Very sad.

        • And this country you are guilty till proven innocent

      • I feel.you Cleveland County exact same way want to be soldiers

    • It is my experience that the state doesn’t want the defendant to have codified speedy trial rights. In Texas it was the state district attorneys who lobbed to repeal a time limit to bring cases to trial. It is the practice here to hold those felony indicted as long as possible to coerce a plea bargain. There is a speedy trial right here but first the defendant must assert it in writing. Generally from the date of assertion the state has 9 months to bring the case to trial. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has made it plain and clear. no seedy trial exist for a criminal defendant unless the defendant invokes it. 99 percent of court appointed lawyers will not invoke. Why? because most court appointed lawyers are not trial lawyers they are plea bargain experts

  2. Well Im lost because I was arrested in 10/2007 for Trafficing and Maintaining a dwelling but never been in front of a judge. It was a bogus charge and I told them I was going to sue I guess that’s why I can’t obtain any information. I have been researching for statues of limitations for North Carolina, and if i believe im correct there isn’t any here in NC. Not sure what step to take for I was appointed a Public Defender however we have never been indicted and he says he never recieved any information on the case, it is going on three years to the date of the arrest. No government officials can offer any information to me. What can I do? Im afraid this arrest may affect my career as well as job offers? I lost a $40k job over these bogus charges and I want my life back.

    • Look outside the box to Federal Statues on speedy trials

  3. I disagree with the notion that cases are continued past the 120 day mark solely on the defendant’s continued motion(s). Assistant District Attorneys are not the least bit shy about asking for continuance after continuance because (i) there is no time on the docket to hear a trial; (ii) the officer is not present in court (although the court date is specifically scheduled on his “court date”); (iii) there is no translator available — even though preparing the courtroom for trial is supposedly the duty of the District Attorney; (iv) the officer needs to be subpeoned because he doesn’t have a “regular court date”.

    • It is the jr district attorneys, I am watching and taking notes, Fifty years in Lincolnton and I have NEVER seen the wool pulled over the people’s eyes like this sheriff and the DA are doing. We do not have the amendment in NC like other states do to insure the right to trial with in so many days, they are afraid of lawsuits against the county and well they should be. Two years, three years it is not important, they are on a power trip of botched cases and trying to make demi gods out of these people. I am tired , I want to sell my house and move, away from Lincoln county anywhere but Lincoln county. We have no protection as the sheriff has harassed us with his “men” protocol and the law has not been followed.If someone committed a crime here who would we call? There is no one to call , when the people who harass are the people who are suppose to protect.

      • how do you think America was created?? by a group of oppressed people who over threw the government and created it own government. Today its called treason..

  4. Actually, North Carolina does have a speedy trial statute. It can be found at Chapter 15-10.


      • Where can I find chapter 15-10 about speedy trials in nc

        • It is my understanding since reading all I can find , the NC law was done away with in 1989, would you post it if it is not true?

    • It’s only speedy if not indicted by the time second session comes around, then case can be dismissed if over 4 months have passed between first and second session but if less than 4 months the judge can hold them. It didn’t say anything about those who have been indicted and are still waiting for answers. My husband was indicted before all reports were finalized,without enough proof. He has been in jail almost 4 months now and he was arrested for something that happened 6yrs ago this October. The police, Dss and prosecutor fail to acknowledge the fact it happened that long ago and act as though it happened yesterday. They refuse to allow my husband mercy or even a chance to rehabilitate in a state psychiatric institution. He is being blamed for something a child did to him involuntarily and impulsively as the child has mental health issues. They are calling this case unique and are trying to coerce a guilty plea out of my husband by treating him worse than a rabid dog while sitting in jail 23hrs a day. Only allowing him out for may be an hour a day, if they aren’t on lockdown due to overcrowding. What can be done about this ??

  5. I have been researching this law and would like to know how to address Richmond County’s DA office. My son has been held in Rockingham NC, since Oct 8, 2009. He was charged with capital murder, later reduced to kidnapping. We have gone to court two times. He was held for 4 months prior to the first court appearance. The second appearance was an administrative hearing that we did not have to attend, that was in Feb. 2012. At the time I was traveling 1:45 min to see my son weekly or to attend court. In Dec. 2013, my son requested to be transferred to a Central prison in Raleigh to be able to go outside, before that, he had not been outside at all. He is now at Central Prison in Raleigh, but does not have the same rights because he is just being held until trial. He has two attorneys, one appt and one I’m paying 30,000.00 to handle this case. Nothing is being done. Who can help me, who do I contact. He does not even have a court date. This is ridiculous and inhumane. Is there anything that I can do to speed this up.please advise

  6. Brunswick County, NC here. We need to join – together and coherently – to protect citizen’s right to a speedy trial. Any suggestions? 910-789-4457

    Brunswick County uses the threat of time on awaiting trial inmates to force them into pleaing so they have their conviction rate – is the going opinion. At best they are grossly incompetent or negligent. Months??!! No. Try years awaiting trial. And 2 inmates have committed suicide in the last 60 days in Brunswick County Detention Center. Bolivia, NC

  7. Moore County, NC has been deliberately not scheduling Criminal Cases on the calendars they feel they cannot win!!! The Defense Attorneys always say they are waiting for the DA to schedule the cases for trial, but the Defendants are left for months and months not even having a scheduled court or trial date. In one situation, in a case where there were six other co-defendants, one man’s case resulted in a hung jury and the other six men were on the trial calendar that same week, but as soon as the first man beat his case, the DA removed the other six men from the trial calendar and now for over three month they have not rescheduled their cases and refuse to dismiss them and the defense have nothing to do with them violating the Men’s 6th amendment rights to a speedy trial and 14th amendment right to due process.These people need to be investigated and also these attorneys because they refuse to challenge these violations!!!!!

  8. Here is the link to the general statutes regarding speedy trial… of course it’s not written very clearly.


  9. People can contact me via email–we need to srart publicizing this. I am trying to help someone who is languishing in Union Cty. jail with a public defender who refuses to do anything–no requests for discovery and he claims he received nothing. He has ignored phone messages from defense witnesses who can attest to this man’s innocence and from another attorney who could help. Union Cty. has no public defenders, just bottom-of-the-barrel “private assigned counsel” who don’t get paid enough to open a book or read any more law than they knew when they passed the bar exam. (Which is as much knowledge of driving as someone who just passed the driver’s exam.)

    I have assisted many lawyers over the years; I enjoy legal research and I have authored several books. I offered my help to this assigned attorney. He seems to be one of those puny guys who resents an intelligent woman and, horror of horrors, a non-lawyer who know more law than he does.

    We need to get the Speedy Law statute enacted for NC. If you are willing to talk it up to friends, neighbors–everyone, and write letters, contact me ggwolk(at)Viatical-Expert.net. E Pluribus Unum.

    • I am being held hostage by the nc court system and an assistant da who continues to offer plea bargains and will not get it into court after I have showed up for trial only to have it postponed many times trying to get me to take a pleabargan on a charge that should have never made jt into court. I have an attorney that I paid for that is friends with the da and pretty much worthless… Riggsdiesel66@outlook.com

    • I am a victim of this speedy trial. I was arrested two years ago and still nothing. There is no case only a drug addict statement (co defendant). who has a long record with same charges before. Public defenders work with the DA, wont look at our rights being violated and want us to take a plea Knowing the Prosecution has no case. I cannot gain employment because of pending charges. Something needs to be done.

    • I would love to help you with getting a Speedy Trial Statute instated in NC. It is horrible the way all of the prosecutors in this state are able to keep people in jail without any trial or even an indictment for indefinite lengths of time without allowing them to have their constitutional rights. They set bails that are excessive in order to keep them in jail. The Public Defender offices won’t do anything and say they can’t file for discovery until the prosecutor gets an indictment. The prosecutor doesn’t take it to the grand jury so they don’t get an indictment. The person accused can’t call the public defender and letters are not answered. Requests for the public defender to come talk to the accused are ignored. They can not put up a defense because the public defender is not doing anything and the prosecutor is just getting continuance after continuance because they haven’t gone to the Grand Jury to get an indictment. This is not the way our system is suppose to work. People are not suppose to be locked up without anyway of getting out for years without being allowed a speedy trial and due process. Something really needs to be done here. I did not know that this was even possible. After having worked in law enforcement and at the county jail in Florida for many years I know that what is going on in North Carolina is no right and is a violation of due process, speedy trial and other constitutional and federal case laws. This should be something that is addressed both with the legislature in our state and also with the Federal Attorney General since the prosecutor are violating people’s constitutional rights and locking people up without a formal indictment for years. I would think that this would be grounds to bring an investigation by the federal government to find out what is going on in North Carolina. Please contact me. My cell number is 850-321-1232

      • Hi Mrs Barbara is there a way for you to contact me about a matter for my friend that is going through a court case and is wanting to request a speedy trial an nobody is doing anything for him .


      • My son is having the same problem, has a public defender he has seen only two times in 3 months, doesn’t return calls or emails and says the da will not release any information to her. The inmates are not allowed to go out side for any kind of activities. Some have been confined for twelve months and havent been outside at all during confinement. What can we do about helping them.
        I would appreciate any help or information you could give me.

      • My story is very similar to all of these my friend who is like a son in law to me has been locked up in Vance County Detention Center since December 4, 2017 waiting for trial on something he didn’t do. His court appointed lawyer hasn’t done much for him, although she says he should be found innocent because they have no evidence , just hearsay. I really think this county needs to have a Federal investigation for wrong doing in a lot of these cases I have been reading about. How can we get that done?

    • is there anyway to start a class action civil suit aganst the state of north carolina for many obvious violations of peoples constitutional right to due process and a speedy trial. If its your right as a us citizen then how can states violate any constitutional right. Can a civil suit be brought aganst the AG of NC for allowing these violation to happen.

  10. I have a case in court for 10 mos now and have been asking for a speedy trial and my lawyer wont fill one for me i have lost my job and just made a 25,000 bail im still paying on im want to help this movement

  11. Twenty thousand dollars and much harassment after two and one half years, my daughter was found innocent. The IRS still has over four thousand dollars that I paid to reclaim her car. I am angry.

    • Aurelia, will you contact on FB? I recently saw a post on a legal form about speedy trial, general corruption in Lincoln County North Carolina and Sheriff David Carpenter’s stupidity.

      I’m the one that sheriff Carpenter helped to frame and imprison, but then was exonerated and ran for Sheriff against him in 2014.

      I would like to hear more about your case if I may.

  12. Is this illegal? The Constitution is the Supreme Law of The land! How can the State government ignore the US constitution. The confederacy is dead. What right do these rebel Hicks have to ignore the constitution because they want to cheat people and lock them up as long as they want to. We should file a class-action suit against the state of North Carolina. These people should be locked up for something they didn’t do. They are ruining peoples lives!

    • Welcome to nc where there is no such thing as innocent until,proven guilty. Its just the opposite here, guilty or sit and wait until u say ur guilty then stick an innocent person in prison for 25yrs with no proof of crime.

    • Im working on a civil rights complaint against N.C.I am preparing to file soon about the NC Judicial System and the LEGISLATORS DENYING OUR CONSTITUTIONAL Rights.Lets Organize.

      • Please contact me

      • I’ll definitely join because my son is going through the same thing in Vance County Jail. He has been locked up since December 16, 2019, he is charge with Robbery/w dangerous weapon and Firearm by felon. His Co-defendant was charge with the same thing but was let out on a 50,000 bail and my son got a 850, 000 bail. He’s back public defender has been lying to us saying he’s going to get a bond reduction but he has not help my son in anyway nor has he gone to see him since being on the case. Before this corona virus hit, they schedule he’s trial for Jan, 2021 now he might not go to court until 2022. This is a violation of his constitutional rights and something has got to be done with the way North Carolina Judicial System is. They could care less about what’s going on as long as they get a conviction and get voted into some sort of position. This has got to stop and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get our complaints heard.

  13. Who do I contact to request a speedy trial on behalf of my fiance? If I can’t do it for him who does he contact?

  14. My son was told the Grand Jury hears all the cases then after lunch break everyone receives their indictment. So he has been in jail since January waiting for this process. It seems to be a casual unbalanced system that is in place for the defendant unless you have the means to hire an worthy defense lawyer.

  15. I have a relative who has been in the Vance County court system for almost 3 years. Police forgot to take pictures, lost an item in evidence, and cannot find a nurse from the county jail that is a witness. This individual has had his life on hold for 3 years this November . Is this truly how Vance County courts work?

  16. I was arrested Jan of 2017, since my very first appearance in court I have rejected the offered plea, I opted to go to trial, and I have never requested one continuance. It has been 2 yrs and 1 month since my arrest date and I don’t even have a court date for the case. I want to sue, and I need to be pointed in the right direction, if anyone out there can help please do.

  17. Sad that NC doesn’t have a speedy trial law anymore. It isn’t just important for those wrongly accused, it’s also important to public safety in the case of violent felonies where the person charged made their bail. I know someone who was arrested for multiple violent sex crimes against a child, but has been awaiting the actual trial almost a year, and I fear it will be even longer after hearing these stories. I know for a fact he’s guilty because I’ve seen the evidence that was turned over to the police and it is irrefutable. But, because he is out on bail til the trial, there are children in danger. He lives by a school and has children at home (not the victim, who now lives elsewhere). But, he won’t be on the sex offender registry or in jail until he’s proven guilty in a court of law, so there’s nothing that can be done about it. Meanwhile, the victim lives in constant fear because he’s still out where he could harm others, and deals with major depression every time the trial date gets bumped a few more months yet again. NC needs to do something about the overcrowded court system so they can process these things much faster, especially for felonies!