First of all, if you are criminal defendant, you should never miss court. Your failure to appear will likely result in a warrant and/or judgment issued against you. You might also miss an opportunity to have your attorney get something accomplished on your behalf.
But that is not what I am writing about today.
I saw this happen earlier this morning in Chicago’s Traffic Court.
A judge was going through her morning trial call to see which cases would be ready for trial.
A case was called that had been set for trial. The defendant had not yet appeared. It was 10:00 a.m. and the case had been scheduled for 9:00. The case was stricken from the trial call and was passed for the “no-show” or “warrant call.” Had the defendant been there, the state would not have been able to answer ready for trial, because their arresting officer had not shown up either.
It was mentioned by the prosecutor that the case “was at term.” At this point, all the attorneys in the courtroom groaned.
What did they know that you don’t?
Under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, defendants are guaranteed a right to a speedy trial. In Illinois, that right has been codified under 725 ILCS 5/103-5. Basically, and with certain exceptions, its states that a person is entitled a trial within 120 days if he or she is in custody, or 160 if he or she is on a bond, so long as he demands trial in writing.
So when the prosecutor stated to the court that the case had been “set to term” that meant that the case had been scheduled for for trial multiple times over the past 160 days and that each time the State had not been ready. And since they were not ready on this day, it meant that in all likelihood, the case would have been dismissed, had the defendant shown up for court on time.
But the defendant did not show up, so his attorney could not answer “ready for trial” and therefore his demand for a speedy trial was waived. Yes, waived. The “Speedy Trial” statute states that “[t]he defendant’s failure to appear for any court date set by the court operates to waive the defendant’s demand for trial made under this subsection.” 725 ILCS 5/103-5(b).
This means that the 160 day time period will now start over again, when the defendant appears and demands trial. So that if the defendant were to arrive in court several hours late, but has a great excuse such as that he was a passenger on a train that derailed, he will have to answer ready for another 160 days before he gets another chance to have his case dismissed without a trial. In the meantime, the State gets a reprieve and another 160 days to get their officer in court.
So why did the attorneys groan? Because they know that the defendant just blew a rare opportunity to have his case dismissed without the risk of trial, and because they know that their fellow attorney must have prepared and answered ready three, four or five times to get to this point, all for naught.
So defendants, please keep track of your court dates!