In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.
The Magna Carta declared
[w]ee shall not . . . deny or delay Justice and right, neither the end, which is Justice, nor the meane, whereby we may attaine to the end, and that is the law.1 Much the same language was incorporated into the Virginia Declaration of Rights of 17762 and from there into the Sixth Amendment. The right to a speedy trial is a right of an accused, but it serves the interests of defendants and society alike. The provision is
an important safeguard to prevent undue and oppressive incarceration prior to trial, to minimize anxiety and concern accompanying public accusation and to limit the possibility that long delay will impair the ability of an accused to defend himself.3 But on the other hand,
there is a societal interest in providing a speedy trial which exists separate from and at times in opposition to the interests of the accused. Persons in jail must be supported at considerable public expense and often families must be assisted as well. Persons free in the community after arrest may commit other crimes, lengthy intervals between arrest and trial may promote
bail jumping, and growing backlogs of cases may motivate plea bargaining that does not always match society's expectations for justice. And delay may retard the deterrent and rehabilitative effects of the criminal law.4