On August 26, 2021, the First District Court of Appeal held in favor of the State of Florida (the “Appellant”), and reversed and remanded the trial court’s order granting Brandy Lee Johnson’s (the “Appellee”) Motion for Discharge based on the Appellant’s failure to file an information within 174 days from her arrest. In Florida, under Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.191(a), “all defendants are entitled to be brought to trial within 175 days of arrest without demanding the right to a speedy trial if the crime charged is a felony.” Wallace v. State, 189 So. 3d 1022 (Fla. 3d DCA 2016). The Appellant argued that under the Florida Supreme Court’s Administrative Order, all speedy trial time periods were tolled in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and any delay was permissible. The Appellee argued that the Administrative Order only applied to in-person proceedings regarding speedy trials but not for the time of an investigation or filing an information.
Under the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution, a defendant is guaranteed the right to a speedy trial by an impartial jury. A ‘speedy trial’ allows a defendant to be tried for alleged crimes within a reasonable time after being arrested. Even though most states have laws set in place that set forth the time in which a trial must take place after charges have been filed, the issue as to whether a trial is in fact ‘speedy’ comes down to the circumstances of the case itself and the reasons underlying any delay. In the most extreme situations, courts usually rule that the delay was unreasonable and prejudicial to the defendant, thus resulting in a dismissal of the case.
During the pendency of the subject appeal, this Court decided on another case that would directly impact the Court’s decision. In Smith v. State, the Court held that the Florida Supreme Court’s Administrative Order suspended all time periods regarding the speedy trial procedure, including the time for the State to file or amend an information. 310 So. 3d 1101 (Fla. 1st DCA 2020). This Court relied on their decision in Smith v. State to rule in the instant matter, deciding that the case would be reversed and remanded.
However, due to the difficult times that the entire world has had to endure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, administrative orders, like the ones discussed here, help prevent any such extreme situations from developing. Therefore, the First District Court of Appeal has clarified the Administrative Order, allowing for litigants to properly adapt to these unprecedented times.