The Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution, containsa simple yet intricate clause which states, “In all criminal prosecutions, theaccused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial”XXX. The purposeof the ‘Speedy Trial Clause’as it is known, is protect a defendant from a prolongeddelay between indictment and trial. However the vague wording of this clause have resultedin differing interpetations over time making it matter of ongoing which extendsinto the modern era. In order to understand the complexities in interpretationof the speedy trial clause, its historical origins will be reviewed,relevant U.
S. Supreme Court rulings will be examined , and some current controversiesinvolving of the Speedy Trial Clause will be described.Historical Origins The origins ofthe Speedy Trial Clause derive from old English laws, which influenced theframers of the United States Constitution. In1166, King HenryII of England enacted the Assize of Clarendon, a set of rules of both criminal and civil procedure. Rule number fourcontained the basic concept that an accused person should be promptly brought totrial before a judge. Fifty years after the Assizeof Clarendon, the Magna Carta, apeace treaty between King John and rebel barons, stated the principle that criminal justice should not bedelayed: “To no one will we sell, tono one will we refuse or delay, right or justice.”This principle was further reinforced by the prominent Elizabethan Judge SirEdward Coke in 1642 when he statesthat judges were required to give aprisoner ‘full and speedy justice’. A speedy trial provision was subsequently incorporated into the Declaration of Rights drafted by George Mason when establishing theCommonwealth of Virginia:”That in all capital or criminalprosecutions a man has a right to demand … a speedy trial…”The framers of the Constitution understood that a”speedy trial” was an essential right for the people of the new Country and itwas incorporated into the Bill of Rights in1791 without significant discussion.
However, those framers, could not haveanticipated the quantity of dispute which would arise from it. Relevant U.S. Supreme CourtRulingsA number Supreme Court cases have resulted fromcontroversy’s regarding interpretation of the Speedy trial clause. In the important case of Klopfer v North Carolina(1967), the defendant, Peter Klopfer, participated in a civil rightsdemonstration, and was charged by the state of North Carolina with criminaltrespass. After an indecision by a jury at trial, North Carolina moved for a”nolle prosequi with leave”, which allowed North Carolina to indefinitelysuspend the prosecution and return to the case in the future.
Klopfer objected,saying that the nolle prosequi violated his right to a speedy trial. After theSupreme Court of North Carolina ruled that Klopfer’s Sixth Amendment rightswere not violated, the case was brought to the U.S.
Supreme Court. The U.S.Supreme Court unanimously ruled that indefinitely suspending a trial infringedupon one’s right to a speedy trial. (OYEZ) This case brought ambiguities of theSpeedy Trial Clause to the court’s attention, and set a precedent for otherdefendents to challenge their right to a speedy trial. This opportunity, whichcontained little risk, would be increasingly utilized by many.
(OYEZ) Just five yearsafter Klopfer v North Carolina, the case of Barker v Wingo (1972) wasbrought before the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1958, an elderly couple were beatento death by intruders in Kentucky. Two men, Silas Manning and Willie Barker,were arrested and indicted. While both men were indicted at the same time, thestate of Kentucky believed that the testimony of Manning would be essential inthe conviction of Barker. Therefore, – Kentucky obtained multiple continuanceson Barker’s trial while attempting to convict Manning.
Barker did not contestthese continuances at the time, and his trial was scheduled for March 19, 1963.When the state requested more continuances, Barker objected, however, he wasunsuccessful in his attempt. Barker was convicted, and upon appeal, hisconviction was affirmed.
In district court, Barker argued that his right to aspeedy trial was violated. The district court denied this, and an appellatecourt affirmed this decision. When the case was brought to the U.S. SupremeCourt, the justices formed their decision based upon one question; whetherone’s right to a speedy trial can be implicitly waived. In a unanimousdecision, the court decided that one’s right could be waived. Thus, Barker’sformer conviction was not overturned.
(OYEZ) In the majorityopinion of Barker v Wingo, Justice Lewis Powell emphasized that thecircumstances of each situation are unique and therefore determination of whatconstitutes ‘a speedy trial’ requires the weighting of different factors for each case. The Court held that a four factor system should beused to determine what a speedy trial means in each instance. These fourfactors are : the length of the delay, the reason for the delay, “whether andwhen the defendant asserted his right to a speedy trial”(OYEZ), and the harm which the delay caused thedefendant. (OYEZ)The first factor, which is perhaps the most obvious one, isthe length of the delay. ^x. A specific duration of time wasn’t explicitlydefined within which the trial must occur, which stays true to Justice Powell’sbelief that because every case is different, a single duration of time cannotapply universally. The second factor is the reason for the delay.
^ibid.The State hasthe burden to justify the length of time awaiting trial. Justifiable reasons for a delay could includea locating a missing witness, plea discussions with the defendant, or thedefendant’s request for more time to prepare for trial. If there is a justifiable reason for the delay,such as amissing witness, plea discussions with the defendant, or the defendant’srequest for more time to prepare for trial,than the defendant’s rights have not been violated. On the other hand, if thereason for delay is to harm the defendant or because of overcrowded courts, thereason is not valid, and therefore the accused’s right is violated. Therefore,the judgement regarding if the defendant’s rights were violated is based onwhether the reason for delay is justifiable or not. ^XThe third factor, “whether and when the defendant assertedhis right to a speedy trial”IBID, is less vague than the previous two,for it deals with only the actions of the defendant. If the court believes thatthe defendant wants the trial, based upon his actions, then the court will mostlikely rule that the defendant’s rights were violated.
In Barker v Wingo(1972), this factor was heavily important. Barker implicitly waived hisright to a speedy trial, by not objecting to any of the continuances. ^IBIDThe last factor, established by the U.S.Supreme Court in Barker v Wingo (1972), is, “the degree of harm to thedefendant that the delay has caused”.
^IBID The intent of this fourth factor is “to prevent oppressivepretrial incarceration, minimize the anxiety that accompanies publicaccusation, and to limit the impairment of the accused’s defense.” While preventing prolonged pretrial incarceration andassociated anxiety are considered in the analysis, impairment if the accused’sdefense as a result of delay is weighted heavily in favor of the defense. Thedeath of a witness, or loss of physical evidence, are examples of facts thatcould impact the accused’s ability to defend himself. For example, death of a witness, or loss of physical evidence couldimpact the accused’s ability to defend himselfand therefore the court weighthese factors heavily in favor of a speedy trial violation. Finally, there is one key excerpt of the majority opinionof Barker v Wingo which emphasizes the importance the Supreme Courtplaces on the right to a speedy trial. Justice Powell notes, “The amorphous quality of the right also leads to theunsatisfactorily severe remedy of dismissal of the indictment when the righthas been deprived. This is indeed a serious consequence, because it means thata defendant who may be guilty of a serious crime will go free, without havingbeen tried.
Such a remedy is more serious than an exclusionary rule or areversal for a new trial, but it is the only possible remedy.” (CITEMAJORITY BARKER V WINGO OPINION https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/407/514/case.
html) This excerpt highlights the importance of the right to aspeedy trial from the U.S. Supreme Court’s perspective. Since the result ofviolating this right can be dismissal of indictment.
The U.S. Supreme Court demonstratedits’ firm adherence to thisideology a year after Barker v Wingo, in the case of Strunk v UnitedStates (1973). Strunk was convicted of a federal offense and was sentencedto a term of five years, was found by the U.S. Supreme Court to have beendeprived of his right to a speedy trial, and was dismissed from all charges. The Speedy Trial Act The Speedy Trial Act.An increase in crime in the late 1960s resulted in abacklog of court cases resulting in lengthy pretrial delays.
These delays notonly risked violation of the speedy trial clause but resulted in great expenseto taxpayers and defendants jumping bail during release before trial. Toaddress the problem and clarify ambiguous elements of the Barker v Wingomajority opinion the United States Congress enacted the Speedy Trial Act of 1974. The Speedy Trial Act establishedwell defined time limits for completing the various stages of a federalcriminal prosecution. (CITEhttps://www.
justice.gov/usam/criminal-resource-manual-628-speedy-trial-act-1974). Two examples ofthese time limits are that an indictment must be filed within 30 days of adefendant’s arrest and if a defendant enters a plea of not guilty, trial mustcommence within 70 days from the filing of the indictment or first appearancein court. (Cite Speedy Trial Act of 1974) These restrictions created amore efficient system for lower courts to determine the proper ruling for adefendant. In addition, the Speedy trial actwas envisioned as a means of protect society in promptly bring criminals totrial.
Although this act succeeded in defining explicittime limits for various stages of a prosecution, many more controversies aroseregarding the interpretation of the Speedy Trial Clause and Speedy Trial Act.More Important Court CasesEven though Speedy Trial Act was meant to clarifyambiguities regarding the right to a speedy trial, more case still aroseregarding the matter. Among themost significant cases after passage of the Speedy Trial Act is Doggett vUnited States (1992). In 1980, Marc Doggett was indicted on federal drugcharges.
When the Drug Enforcement Administration went to arrest Doggett, theydiscovered that he had left the country. Doggett returned to the United Statesin 1982 but was never made aware of the indictment against him. (OYEZ) Yearslater, the government ran a credit check, found Doggett’s location, arrestedhim, and prosecuted him. (Casebriefs) Doggett claimed that his right to aspeedy trial had been violated. After his motion was dismissed by the lowercourts, the U.
S. Supreme Court heard his case. (IBID)The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Doggett, findingthat the length of time between indictment and prosecution is included in one’sright to a speedy trial. Furthermore, they ruled that because Doggett had noknowledge of his indictment before arrest, he could not have been penalized fornot raising the speedy trial defense earlier.(OYEZ) Some recent cases regarding a right to a speedy trial have focusedon violations of the Speedy Trial Actsuch as in Zedner v United States (2006).
. In this case Jacob Zedner,who was being prosecuted for securities fraud, was advised by the DistrictCourt judge to waive his right under the Speedy Trial Act “for all time”. (Citemajority opinion) Zedner agreed, and signed a waiver concerning the matter.Ninety one days later, Zedner’s trial began, and eventually, he was convictedand sentenced to jail. (OYEZ) Zedner argued that his right to a speedy trialwas violated, for the Speedy Trial Act states that, “Trial must commence within70 days from the date the information or indictment was filed…
“(Speedy TrialAct). The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of Zedner holding that Zednercould not have waived his rights to a speedy trial, because the Speedy TrialAct does not explicitly admit the waiver of this right. (OYEZ).
In this decision, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmsthe constitutionality of the Speedy Trial Act, as a means of interpreting thespeedy trial clause. ControversiesThe precedent set in Doggettv United States (1992) had made many people believe that the time fromindictment to conviction needed to be speedy. However the in the recent case ofBetterman v Montana (2016) surprised many people. Brandon Bettermanfailed to show up to court when charged with assault.
He eventually turnedhimself in, saying that he did not have the money or a means of transportationto arrive to court. He was subsequently convicted and sentenced to five yearsin prison. On April 19, 2012 Betterman plead guilty to jumping bail but it wasnot until January 27, 2013 that his sentence hearing occurred. Betterman then fileda motion to dismiss his chargeson the grounds that his right to a speedy trialhad been violated. After multiple lower court decisions, the U.S. Supreme Courtruled that the time between the guilty plea and sentencing is not included inone’s right to a speedy trial.
(OYEZ) . The Court’s finding was based on an originalist interpretation of whothe right to a speedy trial protects, that is, the right of the “accused” tohave a speedy trial which is different from the “convicted” having a right to aspeedy sentencing. Another current controversy regarding the right to a speedytrial involves detainees imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay^XXX. The UnitedStates has justified depriving the detainees rights through the USA Patriot Act(2001), which was enacted to serve as both a punishment and deterrent ofterrorists, in response to the World Trade Center attacks on September 11,2001. ^(https://www.justice.
gov/archive/ll/highlights.htm). According to theUSA Patriot Act if a person is suspected to be a threat to national security,or if emergency circumstances are present, the federal government can detainthe person for six months or longer with criminal charges or deportationproceeding brought against the suspect.
htm)Critics of the USA Patriot Act argue that it isunconstitutional, as it deprives detainees at Guantanamo Bay of fundamentalrights. (ruthford) They argue that although many of these detainees may beguilty of terroristacts there is a possibility that some are innocent as welland deserve a speedy trial. In counterbalance itcan be argued if a detainee’s speedy trial clock starts the moment that he isbrought into detention, then all of the detainees who are held in detentionhave an argument for dismissal of charges and should never face a court trial,a substantial threat to US security. While a speedy trial case involving Guantanomo detaineeshas not yet appeared before the Supreme Court, the attempt to balanceindividual liberties and national security would be would be challenging andthe implications would be far reaching.