The concept that “Justice delayed is justice denied” goes back hundreds of years and it is perhaps more apparent now than it was just a few short years ago. Many courts across the country were faced with backlogs due to high case counts, staffing shortages, and outdated technology prior to COVID. But those backlogs intensified due to shutdowns and safety precautions making it difficult to conduct jury trials and other court proceedings. The rights of an accused (and alleged victims) had to be balanced with the need to properly safeguard jurors, lawyers, judges, court staff, and the public against a national health emergency. Fortunately, many courts have made significant strides toward making up for lost time, but as recently as April of this year one judicial district in Georgia had tolled the speedy trial requirements.
The Sixth Amendment to The Constitution memorializes your right in criminal proceedings to “a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury…” along with other very important rights. There are many reasons why this right is important, whether it be that the accused is awaiting trial in prison, that witnesses could move away or forget important information, or simply that the accused wants to address the charges made against him so that he can move forward with his life after a verdict is rendered.
Speedy can mean a wide range of time frames depending on who you ask, so the Supreme Court clarified that clause of the 6th Amendment in Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514 (1972). Barker did not set forth a specific time frame, but offered a four part test to determine whether the defendant had been prejudiced by the delay: 1) the length of delay, 2) the reason for the delay, 3) the time and manner in which the defendant has asserted his right, and 4) the degree of prejudice to the defendant which the delay has caused. Perhaps the most interesting to me is 3, because even though you have a right to a speedy trial, the court will factor in when and how you asserted that right.
The Constitutional right to a speedy trial is somewhat subjective, but in the State of Georgia there is also a statutory right to a speedy trial codified at O.C.G.A. §17-7-170. In non-capital cases, if a defendant follows the procedures set forth in the code section, then his case must be tried during the term of court or the following term of court or the case will be dismissed (with very little exception).
Another interesting aspect of the Barker case that should not be overlooked is that the defendant’s attorney conceded that he did not, in fact, want a speedy trial. You have a right to a speedy trial, but your actions or inactions may have a large impact on whether or not you get one and a lawyer can help advise whether you should make a demand for a speedy trial or not. If you have been accused of criminal wrongdoing, please contact Matson Law Firm for a consultation.