AUGUSTA – The Maine Legislature is considering a bill on Wednesday to protect the constitutional right to a speedy trial by establishing clear timelines for when criminal cases should be brought to trial.
LD 1771 is a top priority for the ACLU of Maine during the 2023 legislative session. ACLU of Maine Legal Director Carol Garvan will testify in support of the legislation during Wednesday’s meeting of the Joint Standing Committee on Judiciary at 9AM in State House Room 438. Watch live here.
The right to a speedy trial is guaranteed by the US and Maine Constitutions and is critical to ensuring all people are presumed innocent until proven guilty. 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 and public trial. In supporting this right, the Maine Law Court recently 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.
However, the right to a speedy trial in Maine is a right only on paper and not in practice. Maine is one of just nine states that does not have clear timelines for carrying out the criminal legal process. As a result, the state’s courts are burdened with historic backlogs, and people are waiting in jail for months, sometimes years, for their day in court.
LD 1771 would address this crisis in Maine in three ways: establishing a clear baseline for the timing of criminal trials; recognizing that, in some cases, there are reasonable excuses to delay starting a criminal trial; and providing clear remedies for addressing delays caused by unreasonable excuses.
“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,” said ACLU of Maine Legal Director Carol Garvan.
“The government is not supposed to be allowed to coerce people into confessing or pleading guilty, but that is exactly what happens when people are faced with taking a plea deal or waiting months, or even, years for their day in court.”