In a recent case from the Third District Court of Appeal, the court was asked to issue a writ of mandamus.  A writ of mandamus is a fancy legal term that requires a governmental official (in this case the trial judge) to do some act where there has been a refusal to act with no lawful basis.  The trial judge’s refusal to act in this case, despite clear precedent from the Florida Supreme Court, was so inexplicable that both the defense and the prosecution sought a writ of mandamus from the appellate court.  

The defendant, Michael Duggins, had been in jail for over 600 days awaiting trial (that’s over a year and a half).  His lawyer filed two motions to suppress evidence, and an evidentiary hearing was held on the motions on June 23, 2014.  The trial judge indicated he would rule on the motions after he received a transcript from the hearing.  The transcript was filed on July 16, 2014, and the judge indicated he would rule on the motions by August 20, 2014 – nearly two months after the evidentiary hearing.

Apparently eager to resolve his case, Duggins filed a Demand for Speedy Trial on July 28, 2014.  All defendants have a constitutional right, under both the federal and state constitutions, to a speedy trial.  The filing of a Demand for Speedy Trial in Florida requires the State to try the case within 60 days.  When a Demand for Speedy Trial is filed, it essentially says to the Court that the defense is fully prepared for trial.  

After Duggins filed his Demand for Speedy Trial, the trial judge entered an Order “declining to rule” on the pending motions to suppress.  The judge took the position that, by filing a Demand for Speedy Trial, Duggins had “constructively abandoned” the motions to suppress.  This raises an interesting question – whether the motions to suppress had any merit?  If the motions obviously lacked merit, they could have been denied immediately following the hearing on June 23rd.  If the motions had merit, and would have ultimately been granted, then one wonders how the trial would have been allowed to proceed with evidence that was illegally obtained. 

The question for the appellate court was whether a defendant abandons his constitutional right to seek the suppression of evidence by filing a Demand for Speedy Trial.  The Florida Supreme Court had previously ruled (back in 1975) that a speedy trial demand is not incompatible with a pending motion to suppress.  Another Florida appellate court had ruled similarly in 1989. 

The appellate court also observed that the trial judge could have ruled on the motions to suppress pursuant to his own established schedule (by August 20th), and could have also scheduled the trial to commence within the timeframe required by the speedy trial rule.

In the end, it is comforting to know that an accused is allowed to exercise multiple constitutional rights in the same case.

If you would like to read the full opinion, click here: