Many people have heard about the protections the Constitution provides for people standing trial for alleged crimes. These include the right to a jury trial, the right to counsel and the right confront witnesses, among others. All of these are based on a more fundamental foundation of the American criminal legal system: the right to a fair trial. That fundamental foundation establishes several things that the prosecution cannot do as they try to convict you. Of course, one of the most critical ways to even the playing field is to exercise your right to counsel and arm yourself with representation from a skilled Tampa Bay criminal defense attorney.
Unfairness in a criminal trial can happen in a lot of different ways. Look at this recent Sarasota case as an example. C.T. was on trial in Sarasota for a burglary charge and two sex crime charges. Those charges all stemmed from an incident where C.T. and a homeless friend entered the home of one of C.T.’s cousins to sleep at the home. The pair allegedly entered the home in the middle of the night uninvited by opening a door secured by a broken lock.
Just seven days before C.T.’s trial was supposed to start, the prosecution changed the list of charges it would pursue. Two days later, the state provided notice that it was amending its witness list – by adding three additional law enforcement officers who were going to testify about the alleged burglary. C.T. asked the judge to postpone the trial, arguing that he needed extra time to address these changes in the charges and these newly added witnesses. The judge denied the request and C.T. was convicted on the burglary charge.
You are entitled to ‘reasonable time’ to prepare your defense
That conviction, however, was later overturned by the appeals court, which ordered a new trial. Florida law is very clear that, as a matter of fairness and due process, criminal “defendants and counsel are entitled to a reasonable time to prepare for trial.” More specifically, this “reasonable time” must be a long enough period that it gives defense counsel “a reasonable opportunity to investigate and prepare any applicable defenses.”
If a defendant, or a defendant’s attorney, is not given a reasonably sufficient period of time to investigate the charges the state is alleging, to investigate the witnesses the state plans to use and to prepare their defense, then that is a denial of the constitutional right to due process of law.
When the state added a new charge against C.T. just seven days before trial, it created a serious challenge for the defendant and seven days was not a reasonable length of time to respond. Under the new charges that the state asserted, C.T. potentially could have used, as a defense, an argument that he was not an intruder but was an invited guest. However, the brief seven-day window was not enough time to allow C.T. to conduct the necessary discovery to develop that affirmative defense. By proving that he had a potential defense that he was effectively prevented from pursuing by the state’s last-minute shift and the trial court’s denial of a continuance, C.T. had proof that he did not receive due process and that he was entitled to a new and more fair trial.
Criminal trials in Florida should be based on fairness and due process, not on surprises and procedural strategic maneuvering. To make sure you get justice in your burglary or other criminal case, call upon the skilled Tampa Bay criminal defense attorneys at Blake & Dorsten P.A. Call us today at (727) 286-6141 to schedule your FREE initial consultation.