Recently, a Virginia court denied a defendant’s appeal in a case involving delays due to COVID-10. On appeal, the defendant argued that the delay between the date he was charged for armed burglary and the date he was convicted was unreasonably long, thus violating his constitutional right to a speedy trial. The court considered the defendant’s argument but ultimately denied it, deciding the pandemic was sufficient justification for the delay.
Facts of the Case
According to the opinion, the defendant was charged with armed burglary after an incident that occurred in September 2018. Apparently, the victim of the burglary was home alone when two men entered her house unannounced. Both men had guns and both men were covering their faces so as not to be discovered.
One of the men immediately began searching the woman’s house for money, while the other kept a gun held to her head. At another point in the encounter, one of the men raped the woman and demanded that she clean herself afterward to erase evidence of the rape.
Eventually, the woman was able to escape through a back door. She ran to a neighbor’s house to ask for help, and the police arrived soon after. After an intense investigation process, officers were able to identify the defendant as the main suspect in October 2019. He was criminally charged and he underwent a jury trial. In January 2020, the defendant was indicted for robbery, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, and armed burglary. He promptly appealed.
Under the Virginia constitution, individuals are guaranteed the right to a speedy trial, meaning if a defendant is held in custody for a felony offense, that defendant can be released from prosecution if a trial does not occur within five months. This provision is meant to keep defendants from sitting in custody for unnecessarily long periods of time and to keep the government from delaying defendants’ trials without good cause.
Here, the defendant argued that his right to a speedy trial was violated. The defendant was indicted in January 2020, and his case was scheduled to be set at a docket call on February 25, 2020. However, the defendant later agreed to continue to the case until April 21 of the same year. During this time, COVID-19 swept the nation, and the defendant’s jury trial was suspended. His jury trial was not ultimately held until May 2021.
Because the time period between January 2020 and May 2021 was clearly greater than five months, the defendant moved to dismiss the case against him. The court, however, decided the pandemic was a justifiable excuse for the delay. Because the defendant’s trial was not delayed in bad faith, said the court, it was okay for the trial to be pushed back. What’s more, the court decided the defendant had failed to show that the delay had negatively affected the outcome of his case. Without evidence showing how the delay created an adverse impact, the court denied his argument and kept the conviction in place.
Are You Facing Criminal Charges in Fairfax County, Virginia?
At Robinson Law, PLLC, we understand how daunting it can be to face criminal charges in Virginia. The good news is: you don’t have to go it alone. Call one of our attorneys today to hear about how we can help you fight the charges against you. We offer services across Fairfax County, and we work on cases ranging from DUIs and domestic violence to assault and firearm offenses. For a free and confidential consultation, call us at 703-542-3616.