Amdt6.2.1.2.2 Scope of the Right to a Speedy Trial

Sixth Amendment:

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 right of a speedy trial is necessarily relative. It is consistent with delays and depends upon circumstances. It secures rights to a defendant. It does not preclude the rights of public justice.1 No length of time is per se too long to pass scrutiny under this guarantee, 2 but neither does the defendant have to show actual prejudice by delay. 3 The Court, rather, has adopted an ad hoc balancing approach. We can do little more than identify some of the factors which courts should assess in determining whether a particular defendant has been deprived of his right. Though some might express them in different ways, we identify four such factors: Length of delay, the reason for the delay, the defendant’s assertion of his right, and prejudice to the defendant.4

The fact of delay triggers an inquiry and is dependent on the circumstances of the case. Reasons for delay will vary. A deliberate delay for advantage will weigh heavily, whereas the absence of a witness would justify an appropriate delay, and such factors as crowded dockets and negligence will fall between these other factors. 5 It is the duty of the prosecution to bring a defendant to trial, and the failure of the defendant to demand the right is not to be construed as a waiver of the right. 6 Yet, the defendant’s acquiescence in delay when it works to his advantage should be considered against his later assertion that he was denied the guarantee, while the defendant’s responsibility for the delay would preclude a claim altogether. A delay caused by assigned counsel should generally be attributed to the defendant, not to the state. However, [d]elay resulting from a systemic 'breakdown in the public defender system' could be charged to the State.7 Finally, a court should look to the possible prejudices and disadvantages suffered by a defendant during a delay. 8

Footnotes

  1.  Jump to essay-1Beavers v. Haubert, 198 U.S. 77, 87 (1905) (holding that the guarantee could not be invoked by a defendant first indicted in one district to prevent removal to another district where he had also been indicted). A determination that a defendant has been denied his right to a speedy trial results in a decision to dismiss the indictment or to reverse a conviction in order that the indictment be dismissed. Strunk v. United States, 412 U.S. 434 (1973). A trial court denial of a motion to dismiss on speedy trial grounds is not an appealable order under the collateral order exception to the finality rule. One must raise the issue on appeal from a conviction. United States v. MacDonald, 435 U.S. 850 (1977).
  2.  Jump to essay-2Cf. Pollard v. United States, 352 U.S. 354 (1957); United States v. Ewell, 383 U.S. 116 (1966). See United States v. Provoo, 350 U.S. 857 (1955), aff’g 17 F.R.D. 183 (D. Md. 1955).
  3.  Jump to essay-3United States v. Marion, 404 U.S. 307, 320 (1971); Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514, 536 (1972) (Justice White concurring).
  4.  Jump to essay-4Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514, 530 (1972). For the federal courts, Congress under the Speedy Trial Act of 1974 imposed strict time deadlines, replacing the Barker factors.
  5.  Jump to essay-5Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514, 531 (1972). Delays caused by the prosecution’s interlocutory appeal will be judged by the Barker factors, of which the second – the reason for the appeal – is the most important. United States v. Loud Hawk, 474 U.S. 302 (1986) (no denial of speedy trial, since prosecution’s position on appeal was strong, and there was no showing of bad faith or dilatory purpose). If the interlocutory appeal is taken by the defendant, he must bear the heavy burden of showing an unreasonable delay caused by the prosecution [or] wholly unjustifiable delay by the appellate court in order to win dismissal on speedy trial grounds. Id. at 316.
  6.  Jump to essay-6Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. at 528. See generally id. at 523-29. Waiver is an intentional relinquishment or abandonment of a known right or privilege, Johnson v. Zerbst, 304 U.S. 458, 464 (1938), and it is not to be presumed but must appear from the record to have been intelligently and understandingly made. Carnley v. Cochran, 369 U.S. 506, 516 (1962).
  7.  Jump to essay-7Vermont v. Brillon, 129 S. Ct. 1283, 1292 (2009) (citation omitted).
  8.  Jump to essay-8Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514, 532 (1972).