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Your Right to a Speedy Trial and Serna Motions

Your Right to a Speedy Trial and Serna Motions

Your Right to a Speedy Trial and Serna Motions

When we are in court we often hear things like the “right to a speedy trial”. Usually we hear about it when we about to give it up. For many years, a very common defense tactic was to purposely “age” a case until you got a better result for your clients. Memories fade, witnesses get lost or lose interest in coming to court. Lots of things happen over time which may affect the outcome of a case. Last week I had a domestic battery case in the Criminal Courts Building (aka Clara Shortridge Foltz criminal justice center). When my client hired me, he told me he was just arrested on an old warrant that has been out in the system for over 12 years. I asked him what had happened twelve years ago and he said he got into a fight with his girlfriend and she called the police. The police arrived and took him to jail. My client bailed out and went to court three weeks later. There was nothing filed in his case and he left court with proof that he had appeared as ordered.

My client relocated to another state and went on with his life. A few weeks ago he was back in California to visit an old friend. He was pulled over for a minor traffic violation and taken to jail for his 12 year old warrant. My client, let’s call him “Bob”, posted bail (again) and hired me. I began to inquire about the facts of the case. My client didn’t say he wasn’t guilty and he never said he didn’t do anything wrong 12 years ago. What he did do is asked me if I could possibly help him avoid a conviction as he currently has a similar matter pending in another jurisdiction. I then began my investigation. I went to court and reviewed the court file and got the police reports. Guess what I found. When the prosecutor finally filed the case, about 6 months after Bob’s first arrest, they mailed him a letter. The letter goes something like this: Dear sir, charges have been filed against you. Please be in court on such a date and at such a time. If you are not in court a warrant could be issued for your arrest.

The thing is, the clerk at the City Attorney’s office mailed the letter to the wrong address. My client never got notice of the criminal charges against him. More than a year went by. After a year, it is presumed to be prejudicial to the defendant if he is not brought to trial. This is part of your right to a speedy trial. The prosecution has to make some effort to bring you to trial in a timely manner. If they do not make such efforts, the case could be dismissed. The theory is that if the prosecution waits too long, the defendant suffers because his or other people’s memories could fade. Witnesses or evidence could be lost. Generally, it is very difficult to defend oneself a long time after an incident occurs.

At this point I filed my “Serna” motion. People vs. Serna is a case aboutthe defendant’s right to a speedy trial. In a misdemeanor case, the defendant has the right to be brought to trial within 45 days of his arraignment if he is out of jail and within 30 days of his arraignment if he is in jail. Additionally, a defendant has a right to have a case filed or brought against him within one year of the date of any alleged criminal conduct. Failure file charges makes those charges time barred by the statute of limitations. Finally, the prosecution has a duty to notify the defendant of any pending charges. They can do this with a letter or a call. The police can go to your home and tell you personally and they can also issue an arrest warrant and go out and arrest you.

If these timelines are not obeyed, the case can be ordered dismissed by the judge. In Bob’s case, the prosecution never notified Bob of the pending charges against him. Over a year went by before he ever found out and then only after he was arrested a second time. I brought my motion to dismiss the entire case based upon the delay in notifying my client and bringing him to trial. I won. Case dismissed and Bob is off to fight his other case in another state.

Best of luck with the other case Bob.

If you have questions about your right to a speedy trial or about hiring a criminal defense or DUI defense attorney, or if you want a free case evaluation, call me:

Attorney Jeffrey Vallens (818) 783-5700 or (888) 764-4340 or email me at:

I look forward to meeting you and doing my best to get your case dismissed too!

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