Continuing our series on the Sixth Amendment of the US Constitution, today we’re taking a look at the speedy trial clause. We’ve already examined the notice of accusation clause last week. But we want to make sure we cover our bases since understanding the sixth amendment is vital to civil rights conversations these days. After all, if we don’t understand the rights we have by law, how can we fight for them? How can we defend them legally? So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the speedy trial clause.
Speedy Trial Clause Defined
First, let’s define the term. We already quoted the full sixth amendment last week, so we don’t need to do so again here. However, it’s important to know what we’re talking about when we say “speedy trial clause.” It comes from the line in the amendment that says, “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial.”
So, what does this right mean? According to Barker v. Wingo (1972), it involves four elements:
- Length of delay – Courts cannot hinder a trial for over a year after the arrest or indictment.
- Reason for delay – Prosecutors need legitimate reasons for a delayed trial, such as to secure the presence of an absent witness or for the jury’s sake.
- Time and manner – If the delay is for the defendant’s benefit, they cannot agree to it and then later claim it wasn’t fair.
- Degree of prejudice – Courts cannot hinder a trial if doing so will unduly harm the defendant or their case.
Speedy Trial Clause and You
Second, what does this clause in the sixth amendment have to do with you? Consider the four elements mentioned above. If a prosecutor, judge, or court continues to delay your case or won’t provide a legitimate reason for the delay, then they may be violating your rights! They might be violating the Sixth Amendment! Don’t let them. You need an experienced lawyer to defend you.