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Craig Titus & Kelly Ryan Investigation » Blog Archive » Fair and Speedy Trial

Fair and Speedy Trial

The recent news on the Titus & Ryan case could push this trial back further. We’ve received a few emails asking what about a fair and speedy trial. The Web site Answers.com shares the following:

The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees all persons accused of criminal wrongdoing the right to a speedy trial. Although this right is derived from the federal Constitution, it has been made applicable to state criminal proceedings through the U.S. Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The right to a speedy trial is an ancient liberty. During the reign of Henry II (1154-1189), the English Crown promulgated the Assize of Clarendon, a legal code comprised of twenty-two articles, one of which promised speedy justice to all litigants. In 1215 the Magna Charta prohibited the king from delaying justice to any person in the realm. Several of the charters of the American colonies protected the right to a speedy trial, as did most of the constitutions of the original thirteen states.

The Founding Fathers intended the Speedy Trial Clause to serve two purposes. First, they sought to prevent defendants from languishing in jail for an indefinite period before trial. Pretrial incarceration is a deprivation of liberty no less serious than post-conviction imprisonment. In some cases pretrial incarceration may be more serious because public scrutiny is often heightened, employment is commonly interrupted, financial resources are diminished, family relations are strained, and innocent persons are forced to suffer prolonged injury to reputation.

Second, the Founding Fathers sought to ensure a defendant’s right to a fair trial. The longer the commencement of trial is postponed, the more likely it is that witnesses will disappear, memories will fade, and evidence will be lost or destroyed. Of course, both the prosecution and the defense are threatened by these dangers, but only the defendant’s life, liberty, and property are at stake in a criminal proceeding.

The right to a speedy trial does not apply to every stage of a criminal case. It arises only after a person has been arrested, indicted, or otherwise formally accused of a crime by the government. Before the point of formal accusation, the government is under no Sixth Amendment obligation to investigate, accuse, or prosecute a defendant within a specific amount of time.

Nor does the Speedy Trial Clause apply to post-trial criminal proceedings, such as probation and parole hearings. If the government drops criminal charges during the middle of a case, the Speedy Trial Clause does not apply unless the government later refiles the charges, at which point the length of delay is measured only from the time of refiling. However, the fairness requirements of the Due Process Clause apply during each juncture of a criminal case, and an unreasonably excessive delay can be challenged under this constitutional provision even if the delay occurs before formal accusation or after conviction.

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to draw a bright line separating permissible pretrial delays from delays that are impermissibly excessive. Instead, the Court has developed a balancing test in which the length of delay is just one factor to be considered when evaluating the merits of a speedy trial claim. The other factors to be considered by a court include the reason for the delay, the severity of prejudice suffered by the defendant from the delay, and the stage during the criminal proceedings at which the defendant asserted the right to a speedy trial.

A delay of at least one year in bringing a defendant to trial following arrest will trigger a presumption that the Sixth Amendment has been violated, with the level of judicial scrutiny increasing in direct proportion to the length of delay. A longer delay may be deemed constitutional, however, and a shorter delay may be deemed unconstitutional, depending on the circumstances.

Longer delays will be permitted to accommodate the schedules of important witnesses, and to allow the prosecution to prepare for a complex case. Longer delays will also be tolerated when a defendant is dilatory in asserting the right to a speedy trial. In general, defendants must assert their Sixth Amendment right in a timely motion before the trial court. If the defendant fails to assert the right in this manner, or acquiesces in the face of protracted pretrial delays, she may not raise the issue for the first time on appeal, unless the defendant’s failure to raise the issue earlier was due to her attorney’s negligence. Defendants who delay prosecution by inundating the trial court with frivolous pretrial motions are also treated as having forfeited their rights to a speedy trial. The law does not allow defendants to profit from their own wrong under these circumstances.

Read more of this article here.

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