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COVID butting heads with right to a speedy trial

November 23, 2020 Digital Media Exclusive

This is an excerpt from a larger article that appears in Tuesday's Butler Eagle. Subscribe online or in print to read the full article.

Precautionary measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus have created unique challenges for the county's criminal justice system, like much of the state and country.

In March, the state and county postponed jury trials along with most court proceedings in an attempt to stem the spread of the virus. With the rest of the criminal justice system now resumed, the system is working with what is arguably the most crucial part still missing — the ability to hold a jury trial in an attempt to prove an individual's innocence or guilt.

The lack of jury trials created a standstill in many criminal cases, with many people facing criminal charges often in jail, unable to afford high cash bonds and having no way to clear their name and possibly prove their assumed innocence. Many defense lawyers are turning to a state law known as Rule 600 to get their clients out of jail.

During a court hearing Nov. 18, Butler County Common Pleas Judge William Shaffer heard arguments for the release of David C. Masdea, 48, of Butler from Butler County Prison under Rule 600, a state law that is meant to guarantee a defendant's right to a speedy trial.

“It's an unfortunate situation. I believe that functionally speaking, speedy trial isn't a right at this moment,” said Joel Lansing Hills, a local defense attorney. “The constitution and COVID are definitely butting heads at this point.”

This is an excerpt from a larger article that appears in Sunday's Butler Eagle. Subscribe online or in print to read the full article.