The right to a speedy trial is critical to upholding the idea that all people are presumed innocent until proven guilty. People's lives can be upended when they are charged with a criminal offense. No person should be jailed, separated from their family and community, and unable to work simply because the state cannot carry out its basic duties in a timely manner.
When the government chooses to charge a person with a crime, it is the government’s responsibility to provide a fair legal process, including a speedy trial. Right now, Maine is just one of nine states without a speedy trial law. Maine should join the 41 other states and the federal government by adopting specific timelines to ensure that criminal cases proceed fairly and efficiently. Without action, Maine will continue failing to uphold the people’s constitutional rights and court backlogs will continue to grow at ever-increasing expense to taxpayers.
Maine is failing to uphold the people’s right to a speedy trial by burdening people accused of crimes with unprecedented delays, forcing them to wait months and even years for trial, often while incarcerated. It is in the best interest of people accused of committing a crime and the public for criminal cases to move forward efficiently on clear timelines. The government has a responsibility to provide a fair process for everyone it chooses to charge with a crime, and that includes a speedy trial.
Maine’s backlog in criminal cases has increased by double-digits since before the pandemic: pending criminal cases rose by 65% between March 2019 and March 2022. The backlog stands at well over 20,000 unresolved cases, and state leaders estimate that Maine won’t even be able to start addressing the backlog until 2028.
The right to a speedy trial is guaranteed by both the US and Maine Constitutions, but for far too long, this right has existed only on paper in Maine, and not in practice.
In a recent opinion from the Maine Supreme Court, the justices noted that while it is the judiciary’s role to interpret the Maine Constitution, it is the legislature’s job to adopt clear timelines for criminal cases to be brought to trial. When people are waiting years for their day in court and we have huge backlogs of criminal cases, everyone loses.
Lawmakers must pass legislation to establish clear timelines for when cases should be brought to trial, what kinds of delays are excusable, and what the remedy is for excessive delay. This will provide much-needed clarity to courts, prosecutors, and defendants alike.
This will allow courts and prosecutors to prioritize and allocate resources to cases that need to be moved more quickly, and deprioritize cases that don’t. Ultimately, the Speedy Trial Act may require the dismissal of cases that the government has chosen not to prioritize for prosecution. There is nothing unfair about that because the government should only bring allegations against a person if it is prepared to make its case in a fair and timely manner.
This bill originated in 2023 during the First Regular Session of the 131st Legislature. It was not passed in 2023 and was carried over into 2024 to be considered during the Second Regular Session of the 131st Legislature.
- Bill printed: 4/25/2023
- Referred to Joint Standing Committee on Judiciary: 4/25/2023
- Carried over from 2023 to 2024: 7/26/2023
- Public hearing in committee: N/A
- Work session and vote in committee: N/A
- House vote: N/A
- Senate vote: N/A
- Action by governor: N/A