In the past, it was pretty well accepted in New Mexico metropolitan, municipal and magistrate court cases that the 6th Amendment Right to a speedy trial meant that the State had to bring its case to trial within 6 months.
The Courts in Albuquerque followed this rule pretty closely. If the State failed to bring a case to trial within 6 months, the case was dismissed. The New Mexico Supreme Court threw this long established custom out in the case of State v. Garza (NM 2009).
In doing so, the court laid out some “guidelines” for speedy trial rights for the future. The guidelines are 12 months for simple cases, 15 months for cases with intermediate complexity, and 18 months for complex cases.
The Court even took the teeth out of these requirements by saying that these guidelines were merely thresholds for further inquiry.
So what does this mean for you and your case? Suffice it to say it is not good. It is unclear how how this ruling will affect the criminal trial process in Albuquerque and throughout the courts of New Mexico.
The standard leaves so much to interpretation that it seems judges can pretty well disregard the speedy trial rights of defendants if they so choose. It means also that the district attorneys will become even more negligent in the prosecution of their cases.
Walk into any metropolitan, municipal or magistrate court in the State on any given day, and you will see case after case after case where the prosecutor has failed to provide discovery, failed to make witnesses available, failed to meet statutory deadlines, and largely failed to prosecute their cases in a diligent manner.
When this occurs, the prosecutor would typically be given warnings about being prepared the next time. Many judges would dismiss the cases the next time if the prosecutors came unprepared again.
In the past, the speedy trial rule provided some check on prosecutor‘s negligence of their files. The prosecutors had a deadline that they had to meet and this prevented them from ignoring a file and their responsibilities as prosecutors and attorneys. It seems now that they are free to prosecute their cases at their leisure with no real deadlines to insure their diligence.
The case of State v. Garza does more than infringe the rights of the defendant, who must be present at each trial setting only to hear the prosecutor is not ready. The defendant life is put on hold now for what at least for now is an indeterminate amount of time left to the whim of the particular judge.
Many people are not sympathetic to criminal defendants. In fact, most are downright hostile. What these folks might consider is the costs to the taxpayer of prosecutorial negligence.
For each and every hearing to which they come unprepared, they have tied up the resources of their own office since they must be present prepared or not. They have tied up in many cases the office of the public defender who is funded by the taxpayer. Then they are tying up an already overburdened court.
For each hearing, there must be a judge who is paid handsomely for his or her presence. There are guards, bailiffs, secretaries, court reporters, interpreters, and a host of other court personnel depending upon the case. This is hugely expensive. And now in a time of budget crisis for government across our country, the prosecutor has been written a blank check at the expense of the taxpayer.
Perhaps the Supreme Court has given judges leeway to stretch the speedy trial period over an indeterminate time. However, judges on an individual basis must still manage their courtrooms. They must manage their budgets.
Ultimately, they must answer to taxpayers. But on a more mundane level, they must answer to themselves. Playing fast and loose with the speedy trial rule will cause their caseload to grow as case turnover slows to a crawl.
Hopefully, if not motivated to protect the rights of the defendant, the courts will at least be motivated to manage their own workload.
Speedy Trial Requirement & Six Month Rule on Misdemeanor Cases: Exceptional Circumstances Required for Deviations
Speedy Trial Rights Stumble Up from the Mat: Oral Rulings Will Not Extend the Rule in New Mexico
Right to a Speedy Trial in New Mexico Juvenile Criminal Cases