8/26/2014 2:29:00 PM Justice Delayed: Speedy trials guaranteed in U.S. Constitution, but seldom happen
Cesar Garcia-Soto, 33, was arrested in February 2008 and charged with first-degree murder and two counts of child abuse in connection with the death of his 3-month-old son in the Village of Oak Creek. His trial is scheduled for January 2016.
"In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial..." - U.S. Constitution, 6th amendment
When it comes to "speedy" trials, the legal system often founders.
In Arizona, the term is defined by Rule 8 of Criminal Procedure. If a defendant is in custody, the justice system has 150 days from arraignment to hold a trial; out of custody, 180 days.
So-called "complex" cases are allowed 270 days. Capital cases, involving the death penalty, have 18 months.
But in practice, those deadlines are almost never met.
Some high-profile examples in Yavapai County:
Steven C. DeMocker's murder case, at one time a capital case, took five years from arrest to conviction;
Cesar Garcia-Soto is slated to begin his death penalty trial, on charges that he murdered his son, eight years from the arrest date in 2008;
Jeffrey Balys, arrested on charges of luring a minor for sexual exploitation in January 2011, is set for trial in November, nearly four years after his arrest.
The reason is that the defense -- never the prosecution -- is allowed to "waive" Rule 8 time if it so chooses. At every appearance in which a defendant's actions are delayed, the judge asks if he is willing to waive time, and he routinely does.
That's because the attorneys advise their clients that the time is needed for preparation to take place to ensure their defense is ready, Yavapai County Public Defender John Napper said.
"A lot of cases take longer than expected because criminal prosecutions and defenses have become more complicated across time," he said, noting that scientific evidence has become a major factor in trials.
"Usually, you have a conversation with your client about waiving Rule 8 prior to appearing in the courtroom," he added, and "nine times out of ten" they agree.
There are times, Napper said, when a lawyer is simply overloaded with cases, and he can't go to trial within the Rule 8 time, and needs to have an extension.
Sometimes, a defendant decides to refuse to waive Rule 8 time. The judge can order that time be waived if it's simply impractical to set a trial date by the deadline, although, Napper said, this happens infrequently.
After nearly a year-and-a-half of plea negotiation, Jacob Cota no longer wanted to wait for his trial.
"I've been in custody for 16 months now and I'm ready to go to trial. I don't want to waive any more time," he told Superior Court Judge Jennifer Campbell.
He said he would not accept a "plea for something I did not do."
Cota had been indicted on 14 counts, including armed robbery and weapons charges, along with an accomplice, in January 2013.
Deputy County Attorney Jeff Paupore said in court that "(The case) has got some factual issues," among them the fact that "(the alleged accomplice) has since recanted" his statement that Cota was the second robber.
That was at the end of April, and, Campbell calculated, Rule 8 required Cota's trial begin by June 11.
On May 5, the prosecution asked Campbell to dismiss the charges without prejudice, meaning they could be reinstated later. She granted the motion.
"There's a reference to Rule 8 time in the motion (to dismiss)," Chief Deputy County Attorney Dennis McGrane said. "That's just part of our standard boilerplate. It really had nothing to do with Rule 8."