Right to a speedy trial

There is a right to a speedy trial when charged with drinking and driving in New Jersey under N.J.S.A. 39:4-50. The New Jersey Supreme Court held that there are four factors the court must weigh and balance when a defendant asserts a speedy trial claim arising from a delay in a municipal court drunk driving prosecution. State v. Gallegan, 117 N.J. 345 (1989). The factors balanced include: (1) the length of the delay, (2) the reasons for the delay, (3) any assertion by the accused of speedy trial rights, and (4) any prejudice to the accused from the delay.

A recent Appellate Division decision on point is State v. Fulford, 349 N.J. Super 183 (2002). In this case, there was a relatively lengthy delay (a total of 32 months) caused by the State’s retention of the municipal court charges until PTI was resolved. It was defendant who applied for PTI and spent 14 months successfully completing the program. As a result, the defendant achieved dismissal of the companion indictable charges, and through most of the delay failed to request a municipal court trial or even make an inquiry concerning his pending drunk driving charge. Accordingly, the defendant’s motion to dismiss on speedy trial grounds was properly denied.

On the other hand, in State v. Farrell, 320 N.J. Super 425 (1999), the court concluded that the delay in completing the case was far beyond what was reasonable and was plainly excessive as the case dragged out for over 663 days and 13 court appearances. The reasons for the delay were the prosecution’s clear inattention to his responsibilities along with the municipal court’s patent failure to prepare itself to try the matter quickly and shepherd it to resolution efficiently. “These shortcomings were so egregious that no showing of prejudice was required in order for this defendant to succeed on his argument that, in fundamental fairness terms, he was denied his adequately (and frequently) asserted right to a speedy trial.”