The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees a defendant the right to a speedy trial in a criminal case. Many states also have state constitutional provisions or statutes which guarantee a defendant the right to a speedy trial. A defendant may exercise his right to a speedy trial upon arrest, indictment, or other formal accusations. The definition of "speedy" and the benefits of demanding the right to a speedy trial vary from state to state.
A defendant’s right to a speedy trial will usually be defined by a state statute. The statute will specify the number of days or months the prosecution has to bring the defendant to trial. In many jurisdictions, the prosecution generally has 60 to 120 days to bring an imprisoned defendant to trial unless the defendant waives the right to a speedy trial. The time period is generally longer for a defendant out of custody.
Not included in the calculation of speedy trial time are:
- Delays caused by motions
- Adjournments with the consent of the defendant
- Time when the defendant is unavailable
- Time when the defendant is without counsel
- Other exceptional circumstances
Determining whether a defendant’s right to a speedy trial has been violated involves a balancing of at least four factors:
- The length of the delay
- The reason for the delay
- The delay has caused hardship to the defendant
- Whether the defendant has demanded the right to a speedy trial
To win, the defendant must prove that the factors weigh in his favor. The circumstances of each particular case are very important in determining whether the right to a speedy trial has been violated.
The Right to a speedy trial begins at the time the defendant is arrested and charges are filed. This will begin the clock on when the government has to get the case to trial. If the defendant has not been arrested or formally charged, the clock on getting a trial has not begun.
A criminal facing a felony or imprisonment also has a right to a “public trial” under the Sixth Amendment. This means that the general public and media will be allowed to attend the defendant’s trial unless defendant waives this right. Trials are suppose to be public to ensure that the defendant’s rights are being protected and keep the courtroom staff mindful of their responsibilities and duties owed under the Constitution.
A judge may only prohibit a public trial and close the courtroom to the public when there is a substantial danger to the public at large or to protect the identities of the witnesses or defendants involved.
For example, a judge may close the courtroom from public and media during a rape trial when the victim is on the stand testifying. This is done to protect the victim’s identity and disclosure of name to the public.
Speedy trial complications may seem simple, but an experienced criminal defense lawyer is essential in understanding the court’s procedure. If you have experienced severe delay, you should speak to a lawyer immediately to learn more about your rights, your defenses and the complicated legal system.