Serna Motion

What Is A Serna Motion?

What Is A Serna Motion?

A Serna motion in California, also known as a "speedy trial motion," is a pretrial defense motion filed to dismiss misdemeanor or felony charges due to a violation of a defendant's speedy trial rights. This motion is named after the 1985 case "Serna v. Superior Court" which established the criteria for determining when criminal charges should be dismissed because the prosecution delayed too long in bringing the case to trial.

What Are My Speedy Trial Rights?

Under the United States and the California constitutions, defendants in criminal cases are guaranteed the right to a speedy trial. This right is a fundamental protection meant to prevent undue and prolonged delays and incarceration before trial, minimize anxiety and concern for the defendants, and limit the possibility of undermining the defense. The interpretation of what constitutes a "speedy trial" depends on the context of federal or state law, as well as judicial interpretations.

Both the state of California and the federal government have set specific timeframes to define what is considered a speedy trial right:

  • For misdemeanors in California, the trial must begin within 45 days of the arraignment or 30 days if the defendant is in custody;
  • For felonies, the period is 60 days from the date of arraignment;
  • Federally, the trial must commence within 70 days.

In California, the countdown to a speedy trial starts upon either:

  • Your arrest, following continuous restraint;
  • Your arraignment;

In felony cases specifically, the timeframe begins with any of the following:

  • Your arrest;
  • A holding order after a preliminary hearing;
  • The filing of an Indictment or Information.

For Federal cases, the "speedy trial" period usually begins upon indictment or your initial federal court appearance.

Has My Right To A Speedy Trial Right Been Violated?

A violation of speedy trial rights occurs when there is an unjustified, prejudicial delay between the arrest or filing of charges and the trial. Delays nearing one year may indicate a potential violation. Courts use a balancing test as set forth in the Supreme Court case Barker v. Wingo to determine if the speedy trial rights have been violated.

What Factors Do Courts Consider for a Serna Motion?

Under the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the right to a speedy trial is guaranteed but not quantitatively defined. The Supreme Court, in Barker v. Wingo (1972), established a four-factor test to determine whether a defendant's speedy trial right has been violated:

  1. Length of Delay: The court first considers the length of the delay. A delay long enough to be considered "presumptively prejudicial" will trigger further examination.
  2. Reason for the Delay: The court then examines the reason for the delay. Delays caused by the prosecution's negligence or intentional delay weigh against the prosecution, while delays requested by the defendant may or may not.
  3. Defendant's Assertion of Their Right: Whether and how often the defendant asserted his or her right to a speedy trial is also considered. Failure to assert the right might weigh against the defendant's claim.
  4. Prejudice to the Defendant: The court assesses whether the delay prejudiced the defendant's ability to receive a fair trial, considering factors such as lost evidence, faded memories, or unavailable witnesses.

If you believe that your speedy trial rights have been violated, contact the experienced lawyers at Stephen G. Rodriguez & Partners and schedule a no-cost consultation with us. Call 213-481-6811.

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