The Sixth Amendment of the Constitution, it states that in all criminal prosecutions, the accused will enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury. But what does that really mean?
Most people think a fast and speedy trial means entitled to a short trial. It actually refers to the defendant’s right to be brought to trial within a reasonably short time after the arrest.
History of a Fast and Speedy Trial
The concept of trial by jury was brought over from England on the Magna Carter charter like our other trial traditions and common law variations. When the Sixth Amendment was ratified in 1791 in the United States, trials moved quickly. It was not uncommon for someone to be arrested, tried within 30 days if that, and depending on the outcome, experience the consequences of the ruling in the same afternoon.
That was the overarching concept of what a fast and speedy trial was, however it wasn’t spelled out on paper, just understood by the people who wrote the amendment. And if you look at the history of trials in this country, even some really big ones, they move very quickly.
Examples of Fast and Speedy Trials
One example is the trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg who were accused of being communist spies in the 1950s. They were indicted on August 17th, 1950 and their trial started on March 6th, 1951.That’s just over six months for a major espionage.
Sam Shepherd, a very famous case out in California in 1950 and the basis for the television show, was arrested on July 4th, 1954 and his trial started 106 days later on October 18, 1954.
And what made his case really interesting is that they made the entire case go very quickly. The verdict took 60 days and the trial itself was 60 days
Another popular Angelina Jolie movie, The Chair, is based off of a real case out of California called the Winedale Chicken Coop Murders. The defendant in that case was arrested and brought before a judge on November 30th, 1928 and his trial, which was a 20-murder trial indictment, started on January 13th, 1929.
That is barely a month and a half to get a 20-murder indictment going!
Another popular case that you may be familiar with is the OJ Simpson trial. This case moved remarkably fast. Oj asserted his right to a fast and speedy trial at his arraignment and the trial took place about seven months later. However, the trial itself took 10 months to be done.
Again – it’s important to note that the concept of what represents a fastest speedy trial is how fast you actually get to the concept of the trial, not how long the trial itself actually takes. The way the law looks at it is when did you start the trial versus when was it done. The trials take as long as they take once they’re started.
Breaking Down A Fast and Speedy Trial
As mentioned, there wasn’t a clear, definitive definition of what a fast and speedy trial is until that changed in 1972. In 1972, the Supreme Court of the United States decided a case called Barker vs. Wingo.
The decision ended up bringing murder charges against a defendant by the name of Willie Barker for the double homicide of an elderly couple who was murdered on July 20th, 1958 in Kentucky. Mr. Barker was picked up not long afterwards and over the course of his case, had a total of 16 continuances filed against him by the state of Kentucky.
At the time, the state of Kentucky thought that the co-defendant had an easier case for the state to proceed with, so they focused their efforts on trying the co-defendant’s case. Mr. Barker sat in jail during all that time until his case finally came to trial on October 9th, 1963.
So Mr. Barker sat in jail and waited for 5 years of his life for the trial to start. The Supreme Court was fored to make a decision on what the boundaries of a fast and speedy trial were going to be. The four-part determining test that they came up with is now referred to as the Barker test.
The Four-Part Barker Test For Determining Fast and Speedy Trials
- The first determination factor they look at is how long is the delay. If there’s a delay between the time that someone was arrested at the time that someone is indicted and their case going to trial, how long is that delay? A longer delay between arrest and trial is going to make it seem very much like there is a fastest speedy trial violation.
- The second thing they look at is they look at the reason for the delay. Delays can occur for a variety of different reasons. One of the places where you started really seeing delays was coincidentally in the late 1970s and 80s with the advent of more scientific juries. For example, DNA evidence.
Processing those tests take time and cause delays. Other delays that can be caused are if a defendant jumps bail or goes to another state and breaks a law, if a witness is unavailable, etc.
- The time and manner in which the defendant has asserted his rights. The reality of the matter is most rights are passive. If you don’t affirmatively speak up about your rights, a lot of times the courts are going to say, well, you didn’t actually say anything about exercising your rights and that comes up in criminal cases very regularly.
We see it a lot of times when it comes up with issues like the right to remain silent or demanding the right to speak to an attorney and has spilled into other areas like asserting your right to a fast and speedy trial. You have to actually say it because different jurisdictions will approach it in different ways.
- The degree of prejudice to the defendant which the delay has caused. What that means is how and at what level, or at what severity was the defendant prejudiced by the delay.
For example, going back again to the situation where you have a witness who isn’t available for a particular trial date and the court continues the trial for 30 days. The amount of prejudice that a person might suffer in that 30 days is a lot less than the prejudice that a person might suffer if the case is continued for a longer period of time.
This has been the biggest issue that we’ve been dealing with in the post COVID realm because we have people who’ve been waiting on their cases coming to trial for over a year.
There was one case we worked in 2021 where the state dismissed the case that was charged in March of 2020 because they had lost track of the witnesses. A lot of people did move around during COVID for one reason or another and they ended up having to dismiss the case.
The defendant got moved for one reason or another either, either there were other trials that were happening, and we couldn’t accommodate that we were still closed because of the health pandemic and his case was not dismissed until his case was dismissed in June.
That’s 16 months of having felony charges hanging over their head. It’s difficult to do anything with an open criminal case like that. Renters don’t want to rent to you because they see that listed on your record and while that may not be right, they might be worried that you won’t be able to get the job to afford the rent payments.
Final Thoughts on Fast and Speedy Trials
There’s a concept that we want to get this done as quickly as possible. And I assure you as your attorneys, we also want to get it done but we also want to make sure that it’s done correctly. A lot of times, fast and speedy trials don’t work out as well for defendants as they might think they do.
There’s only one me and I’ve got a staff here and we do a very good job and we make sure that we are addressing our client’s concerns as quickly as possible, but I don’t have unfettered access to the police and to alleged victims like prosecutors do. So as a result, it is harder for me to get that information, to make sure that we are doing the case properly.
It’s important to remember that you don’t get to do over on a trial if you insist on a fast and speedy trial and it goes wrong. You don’t get to do the trial over again. The next day you basically had your chance and done it. That’s not to say that fast and speedy trials are never particularly good or advantageous, it’s simply a very fact sensitive thing that you do want to make sure you’re discussing with your attorney before making any of those decisions.
If you’re facing charges in Indiana and want to know more about your right to a fast and speedy trial – talk to a lawyer. Know what options are available to you, what you need to say, who you need to say it to, and when you need to say if you want to be able to have the best possible outcome for your case.
If you’re looking for someone to represent you, we are ready to help. Get in touch with our office and let’s sit down, cover the details of your unique situation, and put together a game plan.