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Court Clarifies What ‘Speedy Trial’ Means


In Barker v. Wingo, the U.S. Supreme Court concludes there is no set amount of time for a trial to qualify as “speedy.” Instead, the court rules that a number of factors must be used to decide whether the Sixth Amendment right was violated: (1) length of the delay, (2) reason for the delay, (3) the defendant’s request for the right (that is, did he or she protest during the delay), and (4) whether the delay hurt the defendant’s ability to receive a fair trial. For example, even a short delay might be unconstitutional if the trial was delayed on purpose and, as a result, a defendant’s opportunity to defend himself or herself has been harmed (for example, if an important witness dies during the delay). A longer delay might not be a violation because it was by accident or due to uncontrollable events (like a full court calendar) and because no witnesses or evidence have been lost during the delay. The court hearing the speedy trial claim has to look at all the factors and balance them to reach a fair outcome.