US Criminal Law/Defenses/Denial of a speedy trial

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Denial of a speedy trial can occur when the prosecution waits too long to try the defendant. This right is guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and is applied to the states via the Fourteenth Amendment. Klopfer v. North Carolina, 385 U.S. 213 (1967). Barker v. Wingo set out some considerations analyzing speedy trial claims: (1) length of delay, (2) reason for delay, (3) assertion of the right, and (4) prejudice. 407 U.S. 514 (1972).

Factor One: Length of Delay

While there is no hard and fast rule on how long is too long, one rule of thumb is eight months. Courts will generally presume that the delay has been sufficient to satisfy a defendant's prima facie case of the denial of the right to a speedy trial when eight months have passed.

Factor Two: Reason for Delay

Court look to why the trial is delayed: common reasons are laboratory testing delays, overcrowded dockets, and witness unavailability. These will weigh for and against both sides and no hard and fast rule is apparent. The Court will also look at continuances and when and by whom they are requested. Also relevant is whether the continuances were opposed by either party.

Factor Three: Assertion of the Right

A defendant waiting two years to assert his right to a speedy trial will be in a worse position than the defendant who claims it after eight months. Also, a defendant who asks for dismissal instead of a speedily-held trial is not truly asserting his right, but rather is attempting to avoid criminal liability based on delay.

Factor Four: Prejudice

The Court will look to prejudice -- was the defendant harmed by a delay caused by the prosecution. For example, did witnesses die or move away or did their memories fade such that they could no longer be reliable.

Comparison of the Factors:

The Court will weigh the factors for and against a finding that speedy trial rights were violated and will act accordingly. If the Court finds speedy trial rights were violated, it will dismiss the prosecution with prejudice (barring reprosecution). If