Speedy trial Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Presentation of an accused person for trial within a reasonable amount of time to expedite justice and to prevent defendants from languishing in jail indefinitely.

The guarantee of a speedy trial for persons accused of criminal wrongdoing is a concept rooted in English common law. Although the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to a speedy trial, it does not specify what length of time is appropriate. The Supreme Court has refrained from clearly separating permissible trial delays from unconstitutional delays, preferring instead to evaluate delays on a case-by-case basis according to a balancing approach. Under this approach, developed in Barker v. Wingo[case]Barker v. Wingo[Barker v. Wingo] (1972), the Court considers the length and reason for the delay as well as whether the delay was to the defendant’s advantage or disadvantage. The Court left the task of setting more definite time limits to state and federal legislatures. In 1974 Congress passed the Speedy Trial Act, which set a normal deadline of one hundred days between arrest and trial in federal courts; many states later passed similar laws.Sixth Amendment

Although the guarantee of speedy trial is derived from the Constitution, Court decisions interpreting the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment have provided for speedy trials in state criminal proceedings; for example, in Klopfer v. North Carolina[case]Klopfer v. North Carolina[Klopfer v. North Carolina] (1967), the Court ruled unconstitutional a North Carolina law allowing the indefinite postponement of a trial. It also ruled in Strunk v. United States[case]Strunk v. United States[Strunk v. United States] (1973) that dismissal of charges was the only acceptable remedy for violation of a defendant’s right to speedy trial.

Barker v. Wingo

Common law

Fourteenth Amendment

Klopfer v. North Carolina

Sixth Amendment

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