Speedy Trial Law & Legal Definition


In criminal prosecutions, a defendant has a right to demand a trial within a short time under the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Sixth Amendment states " In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence. "

Each state has a statute or constitutional provision limiting the time an accused person may be held before trial, which varies by state. Charges must be dismissed and the defendant released if the period expires without trial. However, defendants often waive the right to a speedy trial in order to prepare a stronger defense, and if the accused is free on bail he/she will not be hurt by the waiver. Speedy trials laws serve to (1) to effectuate the right of the accused to a speedy trial; (2) to further the interests of the public, including victims and witnesses, in the fair, accurate, and timely resolution of criminal cases; and (3) to ensure the effective utilization of resources. The passage of time alone may lead to the loss of witnesses through death or other reasons and the blurring of memories of available witnesses. There are also societal interests at stake. Persons in jail must be supported at considerable public expense and often families must be assisted as well. Persons released back into the community may commit other crimes, may be tempted over a lengthening period of time to ''jump'' bail, and may be able to use the backlog of cases to engage in plea bargaining for charges or sentences which are not in society's best interests.

The length of time considered speedy has no precise definition. State laws often state that a person must be brought to trial with a certain number of days after arraignment. For example, the Mississippi Speedy Trial Act requires a showing of "good cause" to toll the 270-day time limit for the commencement of a criminal trial after arraignment. However, a person may wait several years to be indicted, since arraignment follows indictment.

Speedy trial rights also apply to juveniles charged with delinquency offenses in certain states. However, federal speedy trial rights generally do not apply to juveniles. State laws define when a delinquency petition or other action must be taken against a juvenile. Laws vary by state, so local law should be consulted for specific requirements in your area.