Illinois and the rest of the country are gradually returning to “normal” after 15 months of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. One area that is preparing for that return is the Illinois criminal court system. When the pandemic hit and the state began shutting down, the Illinois Supreme Court entered blanket orders tolling speedy trials on all criminal cases. Last week, the court put out the “open sign” for all courts, issuing two orders that lift tolling on statutory time restrictions and relax or eliminate social distancing requirements. However, these new orders are leaving the courts themselves facing an avalanche of cases and major questions on how to handle them.
Right to a Speedy Trial
The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees all criminal defendants the right to a speedy trial. While the amendment does not specify an exact definition for “speedy,” there are laws that do specify the time limit before a defendant should be tried.
In 1974, Congress passed the Speedy Trial Act, which addresses the federal government’s position on what is reasonable for a federal criminal case. According to the law, a trial should begin no later than 70 days from the filing date of the indictment, unless the defendant waives this right. In order to ensure that the defendant has enough time to prepare, the law also specifies that the trial cannot begin less than 30 days from the defendant’s first court appearance, unless the defendant agrees in writing.
Illinois has its own laws for speedy trials related to crimes charged at the state level. The law states that there must be a trial within 120 days if the defendant is in custody or 160 days if the defendant is out on bond. If the prosecutor cannot meet those deadlines, then the case is dismissed.
During the pandemic, Illinois temporarily paused, or “tolled,” these time limits to account for public health guidelines that delayed case processing. However, according to the Supreme Court’s orders issued last week, the tolling on speedy trials will be lifted as of October 1. Once the order is lifted, the clock begins ticking and defendants will again have a right to a speedy trial. There will also be thousands of defendants who could be demanding speedy trials all at once.
In Cook County alone, there are approximately 30,000 cases that could be affected; however, the court systems are simply not prepared to handle that extraordinary number of criminal cases at once. This could leave prosecutors in Cook County, DuPage County, and other counties throughout the state forced to dismiss charges because they do not have the ability to bring cases to trial in time.
Contact a DuPage County Defense Lawyer for Legal Help
If you are facing criminal charges during this time of uncertainty, you need an Itasca, IL criminal defense attorney who can help you understand and protect your rights. Contact Ana M. Mencini & Associates, P.C. at 630-875-1700 to schedule a free consultation and find out what your legal options may be.