I get asked this question a lot, especially if I’ve been hired on a case well after a person was indicted. Although everyone asks the question slightly differently, it always boils down to whether their case should be dismissed under Mississippi’s 270-day rule. But what exactly is the 270-day rule?
It’s not so much a rule as it is a statute. Specifically, the statute is known as Mississippi’s speedy trial statute, which is not to be confused with the Mississippi and United States Constitutions’ speedy trial provisions (I’ll have an article posted on that later). The speedy trial statute, Section 99-17-1, requires that a defendant be brought to trial within 270 days after arraignment unless good cause is shown and a continuance is granted by the Court. So let’s break that down. What this means is that after a person is arraigned (check out our previous article on arraignments), the State has 270 days to bring their case to trial, otherwise the case can be dismissed.
But wait, why does the statute say unless good cause is shown and an order for continuance is granted by the Court? That’s the tricky part. Even though the statute says 270 days, not all days are created equally. If the State can show the Court good cause for a continuance and the Court issues an order allowing postponement of the case, then the days where the case is postponed do NOT count towards the 270 days. Confusing, right? Here are some examples to help explain it…
Let’s say that Joe Smith is arraigned on Day 1. On Day 30, after having received discovery and getting ready for trial, the State asks the Court for a continuance because it has other cases that are taking priority and want more time to prepare. On Day 40, the Court grants the State’s request and issues an order continuing the case. On Day 280, the Court schedules the case for trial for Day 300. On Day 281, Joe’s lawyer files a motion to dismiss, saying that the case should be tossed out because of the 270-day rule. Will the Court grant the motion? Likely not, because on Day 30, the State offered “good cause” for the delay (managing other cases and still preparing for trial) and the Court issued an order granting the continuance. The moment that both of those requirements were met, the clocked stopped ticking against the State, and did not resume until Day 280. In other words, even though 280 days had passed, under the statute, only 40 days would be counted under the 270-day rule. What if Joe’s lawyer, and not the State, had requested the continuance? It would be the same result, because continuances requested by the Defense almost always stop the clock from running.
But what if the State never requested a continuance and the Court never entered an order continuing the case? Now we’re getting somewhere! If neither of the statute’s requirements are met, then there is a dang good possibility that the case would be dismissed, since the State never did anything to stop the clock. The thing to remember is that even if the case is dismissed, there is still a possibility that the State could come back and re-indict Joe (we’ll talk about that when we discuss the constitutional right to a speedy trial).
The thing to remember is that under the 270-day rule, timing is absolutely critical. The sooner that you get a lawyer is the sooner that they can start working up your case and getting ready for trial, as well as start holding the State’s feet to the fire to make sure that the clock is constantly running against them.