Defense attorneys question what Florida Supreme Court order could mean for backlog of cases

From April to this week, the number of active felony cases in Duval County has steadily risen

There’s a potential legal problem for prosecutors in the state of Florida involving the constitutional right to a speedy trial.

To deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Florida Supreme Court put a stay on the right at the beginning of the pandemic, meaning it was on hold until the state deemed it safe and could accommodate enough trials to resume.

Now some defense attorneys are asking whether that’s constitutional and what it could mean for the backlog of cases.

“The Supreme Court and our legislators have taken steps to make sure not every criminal defendant is let go because they’re not afforded their right to a speedy trial,” said Shannon Schott, president of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers Northeast Chapter.

But she added: “I don’t think this issue has been litigated. The state of Florida and the United States government, to take away speedy trial right, has to have significant compelling state interest.”

RELATED: Defense lawyer gives grim outlook for court system next year due to pandemic | Court eyes COVID-19 delays in criminal cases

At this point, it’s unclear what would happen if the state Supreme Court order is overturned because a defense lawyer appeals it for a client. Some attorneys have told News4Jax it could be considered a precedent for countless other cases in the state that have been delayed.

This issue has started to pop up in Northeast Florida -- first in Gainesville, where Brandy Lee Johnson was arrested in for allegedly trying to cut a child with a meat cleaver. In August, a judge ruled prosecutors did not formally charge her quickly enough for a speedy trial and dismissed her charges. Prosecutors have argued the judge in Alachua County did not follow the state Supreme Court guidelines on the pandemic and have appealed the ruling.

About the Author: