Understanding the Right to Speedy Trial & Impartiality
The criminal justice system provides a means for moving suspects and convicted criminals through the legal system. The process is designed to impart fairness and control over the arrest and trial processes. This process is based on the Constitution and works to maintain fairness and individual rights of the accused.
Right to a Speedy Trial
The criminal process is a series of legal actions concerning criminal cases. After the arrest, criminals are processed. This processing refers to being booked (obtaining basic information such as name and address, fingerprinting, and photograph. Individuals being questioned but not arrested may be detained but not booked provided this takes place in a reasonable amount of time, normally between 24 and 48 hours (American Bar Association, 2014). After being booked, a criminal is allowed to make a phone call for the purpose of obtaining legal counsel or having family prepare bail. At this point, the next step in the process is to be arraigned in which charges against the criminal are read in court. This procedure must take place generally between 48 and 72 hours (American Bar Association, 2014). At which time the criminal will plead guilty or not guilty and will be given a court date and the judge will decide on a bail amount if any.
Prior to the actual trial, there will be some court appearances. These appearances might include evidentiary hearings. This would be a hearing in which the evidence is examined by the judge to make sure that the evidence is strong enough to require a trial. Although not guaranteed by the Constitution, typically speaking all pretrial procedures must be completed in a timely way. Most states use the 48–72 hour rule to avoid Constitutional violations. The timeliness of a trial is based on the 6th Amendment which guarantees a person the right to a speedy trial. This Amendment was designed to keep individuals from being imprisoned indefinitely awaiting trial. While the 6th Amendment does guaranteed the right to a speedy trial it does not consider other parts of the pretrial process and it does not define an exact length of time and the Supreme Court has never defined this a line, “separating permissible pre-trial delays from delays that are impermissibly excessive,” and use a balancing test that attempts to measure the speedy trial claim using time as well as the prejudice suffered by delays (Legal Dictionary, 2015).
The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to draw a bright line separating permissible pre-trial delays from delays that are impermissibly excessive. Instead, the Court has developed a Balancing test in which the length of delay is just one factor to be considered when evaluating the merits of a speedy trial claim. The other factors to be considered by a court include the reason for the delay, the severity of prejudice suffered by the defendant from the delay, and the stage during the criminal proceedings at which the defendant asserted the right to a speedy trial (Legal Dictionary, 2015).
Right to an Impartial Jury
Under the Constitution, citizens are guaranteed the right to a speedy trial which also part of the right to an impartial jury. The right to a speedy trial also ensures that a fair trial is provided. The expediting of a trial keeps defendants and prosecution from having to deal with problems resulting from witnesses forgetting or evidence being lost. The longer a trial takes to commence the more chance of the jury becoming prejudice by media or other sources.
Under the 6th Amendment the right to an impartial jury is guaranteed which also means that a jury must be selected from one’s peers as well as this jury consisting of a representative cross section of a community such that economic, social, and other factors will not prejudice the jury (Find Law, 2015). There will also be a jury selection process (Find Law, 2015). Depending on the state, the size of the jury will vary. The jury selection process involves selecting jurors and informing potential jurors of the nature of the case. The defense and prosecution are allowed to ask questions of the jurors to determine if the jurors can be impartial. This questioning is known as “voir dire (to speak the truth).” (American Bar Association, 2014) If either party feels that a juror is prejudice they can dismiss the juror for cause (American Bar Association, 2014).
The 6th Amendment guarantees a defendant the right to a speedy trial and an impartial jury. These rights are provided by the Constitution in order to avoid excessive imprisonment both guilty and innocent parties. The rights to speedy and fair trial also protect the prosecution by creating a situation in which time limits are placed on the trial process which keeps excessive wait times from discouraging witnesses and other vital testimony. Without the 6th Amendments protections, individuals could be detained for long periods and this could disrupt livelihoods as well as damage reputations.
American Bar Association. (2014). How Courts Work. Retrieved from American Bar Association: http://www.americanbar.org/groups/public_education/resources/law_related_education_network/how_courts_work/sentencing.html
Find Law. (2015). Annotation 5 — Sixth Amendment Impartial Jury. Retrieved from Find Law: http://constitution.findlaw.com/amendment6/annotation05.html
Legal Dictionary. (2015). Speedy Trial. Retrieved from Legal Dictionary: http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Speedy+Trial
Samaha, J. (2006). Criminal justice. Belmont, CA: Thompson Wadsworth.