Imagine a county sheriff that took a suspected drug-law violator into custody more than 10 years ago. Since then, the man has been held in jail without being accorded a trial. The district attorney and the sheriff promise to give the man a trial sometime in the future but they’re just not sure when. Meanwhile the man sits in jail indefinitely just waiting for his trial to begin.
Difficult to imagine, right? That’s because most everyone would assume that a judge would never permit such a thing to happen. The man’s lawyer would file a petition for writ of habeas corpus. A judge would order the sheriff to produce the prisoner and show cause why the prisoner shouldn’t immediately be released from custody. At the habeas corpus hearing, the judge would either order the release of the prisoner based on the violation of his right to a speedy trial or he would order the state to either try him or release him.