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