A Person’s Right to a Speedy Trial

According to the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, every civilian who is accused of committing a crime has a right to a “speedy” trial. Just as every defendant is entitled to a public hearing in a court of law, every defendant also has the opportunity to stand before an impartial judge and jury in a timely manner.

The right to a speedy trial exists primarily to safeguard the interests of the people. Without this rule, a defendant could be locked up for years before his case comes to trial. Pretrial delays could also cause irreparable harm to a defendant’s case as the passage of time erases evidence and witnesses from existence.

Determining Speedy Trial Violations

Once he has been charged with a crime, a defendant can claim at any time that his right to a speedy trial has been violated. The presiding judge must then weigh four specific factors to determine whether this claim has merit:

  • How long has the defendant waited? First, the judge will decide whether the duration of the delay is acceptable. Few speedy-trial violations are granted for delays that last less than a year after the defendant’s initial arrest. The prosecutor in the case is free to present an explanation for the unusual length of the pretrial delay.
  • What are the reasons for delaying the trial? Whether the prosecution or defense is ultimately responsible for the delay, the judge will then evaluate the stated reason for its occurrence. In general, neither the prosecution nor the defense may intentionally delay the court trial for the purpose of strengthening its own case. If a key witness has gone missing or more time is necessary for evidence collection and analysis, the judge may allow the delay to continue.
  • How has the delay affected the defendant? The judge will also evaluate the ongoing effects of the delay. If it appears to be benefiting the prosecution by causing key defense witnesses to disperse, the defendant may argue that his right to a speedy trial has been violated.
  • Did the defendant demand a speedy trial? Finally, the defendant must take action in order to ensure that his right to a speedy trial is upheld. In other words, the defendant cannot wait until the trial’s sentencing phase to voice his displeasure with the pace of the proceedings. An accused person who is unhappy about the length of pretrial delays should voice his dissatisfaction early on. If he sits back and silently endures a delay,  it is assumed that he waived his right to a fast criminal trial.

If the judge determines that the defendant’s right was in fact violated, he will either dismiss the case or overturn an existing conviction. The outcome of the violation depends entirely upon the defendant’s wishes.

Talk to attorney Mario Madrid at 713-877-9400 to learn more about a defendant’s constitutional rights in court.