Montana Vs. Zimmerman: The Right to a Speedy DWI Trial
Our New Hampshire DWI defense lawyers understand that multiple, excessive delays on the part of the prosecution in a DWI case can cause our clients to experience increased uncertainty and anxiety. When facing criminal charges, it can become difficult for a client to maintain their current job or to find a new one. Of course, some delays cannot be avoided, but an unreasonable number of delays caused by a prosecutor could potentially constitute a violation of your legal right to a speedy trial.
A case recently arose out of Montana that perfectly demonstrates this concept. In the case of Montana v. Zimmerman, two police officers observed a pickup truck speeding down a local roadway and decided to initiate a traffic stop. After making initial physical contact with the motorist, one of the officers developed suspicions that the driver was intoxicated and consequently conducted a DWI investigation.
After determining that enough probable cause existed to make an arrest for driving while intoxicated, the driver was charged with, and booked for, a felony charge of fourth offense DWI, in addition to several other misdemeanor charges. At the time of his arrest, the motorist refused to submit to a chemical breath (Breathalyzer) test, and his driving privileges were subsequently revoked.
After spending almost three days in jail, the defendant found the means to post bond and was released from jail. The judge ordered him to abstain from the use of alcohol, and as a condition of his bond, he was given an option of either 1) alcohol monitoring electric bracelet, or 2) reporting to a parole officer twice a day to take a Breathalyzer test. The defendant chose to wear the bracelet, which in Montana is known as Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitoring (SCRAM).
Prior to his trial, the defendant was ordered to pay almost $60.00 each week to the firm who monitored his bracelet. Because of repeated delays on the part of the Montana prosecution, the male defendant was forced to wear the SCRAM bracelet for well over ten months. Consequently, his DWI attorney filed a legal motion to have the case dismissed on the grounds that his client’s legal right to a speedy trial had been violated.
Over the course of the ten months, not only was the defendant required to pay thousands upon thousands of dollars to the electronic monitoring firm, the presence of the SCRAM bracelet also seriously hindered his ability to earn a decent living. The defendant worked as a carpenter by trade, and the bracelet’s presence prevented him from being able to be around specific substances that included alcohol in their ingredients’ list, like industrial solvents, paint thinners, construction adhesives, and other work related items.
In a subsequent trial, the jury determined that the restraint on the defendant’s ability to work and the financial hardships caused by the prosecutorial delays created a substantial prejudice against him and warranted the case’s dismissal. The charges were promptly dismissed. The prosecutor filed an immediate appeal, and an intermediary appeals court decided to reverse the dismissal. However, Montana’s Supreme Court decided to agree with the trial court’s original decision and ultimately dismissed the case on the grounds that it violated the defendant’s right to a speedy trial.
New Hampshire’s Tests For Speedy Trial Violations
In determining whether or not a defendant’s legal right to a speedy trial has been violated, a New Hampshire court is going to examine four different factors and whether or not these factors were violated. These factors are:
§ The delay’s length
§ Reasons for the delay
§ Harm or prejudice to the defendant caused by the delay
§ Whether or not the defendant requested a speedy trial and during what stage of the criminal proceedings the demand was made
The Length of the Delay
New Hampshire does not have an absolute time limit that is classified as “too long”. The court utilizes a balancing test wherein the delay’s length is simply one factor used to determine whether or not a speedy trial was denied.
In general, it is presumed that a speedy trial was denied to the defendant if there is a delay of 12 months or more from the arrest date. This presumption can be overcome if the prosecution can provide a good reason for the trial’s delay.
Reasons For the Delay
The court will examine is examined because a defendant is not allowed to benefit from their own misconduct. Consequently, if the defendant’s own actions are the cause for why the pretrial phase was lengthened, then a defendant cannot claim that they were denied a speedy trial.
Prejudices Created by the Delay
In certain instances, a considerable delay will cause a defendant to suffer prejudice. Prejudice can be demonstrated through loss of evidence, memory, and witnesses. A witness’s inability to recall evidence or the death of a key witness is enough to demonstrate that prejudice after a significant delay.
The Defendant’s Demand For a Speedy Trial
It is wholly possible for a defendant to lose their claim of denial of a speedy trial. In general, a defendant should not accept significant pretrial delays and should calmly assert their right to a speedy trial early within the criminal proceedings. He or she should not silently allow delays to occur and then later claim their legal rights were violated.
New Hampshire, DWIs, & the Right to a Speedy Trial
The New Hampshire Constitution, as well as the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution, guarantees a defendant the right to a speedy trail. The court will also take into consideration whether or not a defendant is currently in custody, the seriousness of the offenses the defendant was charged with, and the case’s overall complexity.
The legal right to a speedy trial is guaranteed to each criminal defendant, including individuals charged with DWI, regardless of their offense. However, achieving a dismissal for the violation of the legal right to a speedy trial is far from a guarantee. Because the facts surrounding each case are unique, you are strongly encouraged to discuss your concerns with an experienced New Hampshire DWI lawyer. To speak with one of our skilled DWI attorneys and for a free consultation regarding your case, please contact our law offices today.