The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees defendants the right to a speedy trial by a jury of their peers. This right dates back to England’s King Henry II (1154 – 1159) and the Magna Carta (1215). While it seems fairly straightforward, the term “speedy” has been difficult to define.
The original purpose of the “speedy trial” clause was to prevent accused persons from spending too much time in jail while awaiting trial, since incarceration is an infringement on one’s liberty. In the same way, waiting too long for a trial could allow evidence exonerating the defendant to disappear. For example, a witness could die, documents could be lost and memories could become faded.
Conversely, defendants can waive their rights to a speedy trial by filing frivolous lawsuits or by entering a guilty plea.
Calculation of the time spent awaiting trial, or the delay, does not begin until a defendant is arrested or indicted. Delay is not the only measure of a trial’s speediness, however. The Supreme Court has set forth a “balancing test” to determine violations of the “speedy trial” clause. Delay is only one of four factors that are examined together before a case is dismissed, a conviction is overturned or a sentence is vacated.
For more information regarding a defendant’s right to a speedy trial, give Rand Mintzer a call at 713-862-8880.