BY BRADEN CARTWRIGHT
Daily Post Staff Writer
Criminal cases are being delayed for months in Santa Clara County because defendants are invoking their right to a speedy trial, sending other cases to the back of the line, the DA said yesterday.
The backlog of speedy trials could benefit defendants and hurt prosecutors, because a case is less likely to result in a conviction the longer that it goes on, DA spokeswoman Cynthia Sumida said.
A total of 464 trials were waiting to go on Aug. 19 with a defense that had invoked their right to a speedy trial. Of those, 114 are felony cases and 350 are misdemeanor cases, Sumida said. “This is a huge number,” she said.
Before the pandemic, the number of speedy trial cases was at or near zero, because the courts could resolve them within the deadline: 60 days for a felony and 30 days for a misdemeanor.
Authority to postpone cases
Courts were given the authority to postpone cases beyond theses deadlines because of budget shortfalls and staffing challenges caused by the pandemic, Sumida said. The right to a speedy trial is guaranteed in the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution, but it is often waived by defendants. Suspected criminals who opt for a slower-paced case are seeing their trials postponed for months.
Backlog affecting public safety
For example, a trial for former Undersheriff Rick Sung on bribery charges was delayed until Oct. 12. And a trial for Isadore Diaz, who is accused of stabbing and killing a man at Buena Vista Mobile Home Park in June 2019, was delayed to Oct. 24.
Sumida said the backlog affects public safety by making “huge delays” between when someone is charged with a crime, and when the case is actually tried before a jury or is resolved with a plea bargain.
“Those delays are especially difficult for victims of crime who wait and wait and wait for the case to be completed, and for witnesses who are asked to remember and testify about things that happened a long time ago,” she said.
Public Defender Molly O’Neal couldn’t be reached for comment yesterday to talk about the rise in speedy trials.