Receiving a speedy trial after being accused of a crime is one of the basic rights provided to all U.S. citizens under the 6th amendment of the Constitution. It applies only to criminal cases and prevents an extended delay between the indictment period and the commencement of the actual trial.
The Purpose of the Speedy Trial Clause
The speedy trial clause is intended to protect the innocent by not forcing them to remain imprisoned or under accusation for longer than necessary. Additionally, the speedy trial rule ensures that the defense has a better chance of constructing a viable defense. As time goes on, a witness’s memory can fade or they may even move way and become untraceable.
The Four-Part Test
As the term speedy can be interpreted in many ways, a four-part test was developed by the Supreme Court to determine if the speedy trial clause has been violated. The tests include examining the following criteria of the case.
- The length of delay– There is no time period set for this criteria. However, in general, most cases that go on for longer than a year are found to be in violation of the speedy trial clause.
- The reason for the delay– This prevents a defendant from delaying the trial through misconduct or feigning incompetence.
- The time and method in which the defendant asserts his rights– Defendants must claim their right to a speedy trial at the very beginning of the trial. If they fail to do so, they often lose the right to claim it later on in the process.
- The degree of prejudice, if any, to the defendant which was caused by the delay. This criteria examines whether the delay caused witnesses or evidence to no longer be available to defend the claim. In this case it prevents the defendant from having a fair trial.
Additionally, in the cases of all criminal charges, except murder, the prosecution must be ready for trial within six months or the case will be dismissed. Each case is examined individually. If a judge finds that any of these criteria have been violated, it is cause to dismiss the case against the defendant. However, dismissal of the case does not prevent the defendant from begin retried on the same charges.