In addition to guaranteeing the right to an attorney, the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees a criminal defendant the right to a speedy trial by an "impartial jury." This means that a criminal defendant must be brought to trial for his or her alleged crimes within a reasonably short time after arrest, and that before being convicted of most crimes, the defendant has a constitutional right to be tried by a jury, which must find the defendant guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt."
What is a "Speedy" Trial?
A "speedy" trial basically means that the defendant is tried for the alleged crimes within a reasonable time after being arrested. Although most states have laws that set forth the time in which a trial must take place after charges are filed, often the issue of whether or not a trial is in fact "speedy" enough under the Sixth Amendment comes down to the circumstances of the case itself, and the reasons for any delays. In the most extreme situations, when a court determines that the delay between arrest and trial was unreasonable and prejudicial to the defendant, the court dismisses the case altogether.
The U.S. Constitution does not define exactly what is "speedy" when deciding whether the trial occurred soon enough. Not surprising there has been a lot of litigation and legislation passed to help determine time limits for a speedy trial. The U.S. Supreme Court provided some guidance in laying out the factors to be considered when trying to determine whether the time to trial was speedy enough. These factors are:
- Length of delay;
- Reason for the delay;
- Defendant's assertion of his right; and
- Prejudice to the defendant.
While the Supreme Court provides some guidance, the Congress and many states have passed laws to provide specific time limits for the trial to occur. The U.S. Congress passed the Speedy Trial Act which set a time limit of 70 days from the filing date of the indictment unless waived. Many states have also passed their own legislation as to time limits for bringing a criminal matter to trial. In California, for instance, the law dictates that a person charged with a felony shall be brought to trial within 60 days of the defendant's arraignment and within 30 days for a misdemeanor.
What is the Jury's Role at Trial?
The Sixth Amendment guarantees a criminal defendant the right to be tried before an "impartial jury," representative of a cross-section of the community, which will consider the evidence against the defendant and decide whether to find him or her guilty of the crime(s) charged. In almost all states, 12 jurors must agree in order to find a defendant "guilty" or "not guilty." In such states, if the jury fails to reach a unanimous verdict and finds itself at a standstill (a "hung" jury), the judge may declare a "mistrial," after which the case may be dismissed or the trial may start all over again.
Waiving Your Right to a Speedy Jury Trial
Given the short periods of time that a case is required to be brought to trial, it is often in the best interests of the defendant to waive the right to a speedy trial. This gives the defense more time to prepare to defend the case and do the work required to find favorable witnesses or evidence. Granted it gives the prosecutor more time too, but the prosecutor has already spent a considerable amount of time preparing the case, before the defendant was charged and starting the "speedy trial" clock. It is common and most defendants waive the right to a speedy trial by making a written declaration.
Protect Your Right to a Speedy Trial: Consult With an Attorney
Although there is no required timeline for a trial after your arrest, unreasonable delays by the prosecution can violate your constitutional rights. Having an experienced and tested criminal defense lawyer in your corner gives you a watchdog to protect this and other rights. Don't delay; get in touch with a local criminal defense attorney today.