What is the Speedy Trial Rule?

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Every American has the right to a speedy trial as stated in the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution. This means that once a suspect is arrested they must be charged with a crime and sent to trial in a reasonable timeframe. A jail cannot hold a person without trial for years while the prosecution builds a case.

This is an important deciding factor for San Diego County prosecutors when they want to press charges. If they believe they cannot find sufficient evidence in a timely manner, a San Diego Criminal Attorney will advocate that the prosecution drop the case. This is especially true for a criminal justice system that has a recidivism rate of 76.6% in state prisons.

To understand the Speedy Trial Clause, you must know when the clock starts, the importance of a speedy trial, and factors that determine the appropriate amount of time the prosecution must build a case.

The clock for a speedy trial starts when an arrest is made, or when the suspect is formally charged with a crime, whichever happens first. This is important for the accused individual, so they are not held for undetermined lengths of time awaiting their charges. Our country gives prosecutors 72 hours to formally charge a suspect, or they must be released. Being held in protective custody is a stressful experience for the suspect as well as their family. The longer a person is behind bars the more likely they are to experience mental distress. Let us not forget that in America a suspect is innocent until proven guilty.

A speedy trial is important for several reasons. Most notably, this upholds our country’s values that citizens are free people that have inalienable rights the government prosecutors cannot revoke to make their job easier. This important clause prevents innocent people from wasting precious time behind bars due to unfounded accusations.

One of the more prominent reasons for a speedy trial is to ensure the effectiveness of evidence and witness testimonies. Courts are not perfect and evidence has been known to go missing from time to time. Similarly, witnesses are prone to forgetting important details pertaining to the case, and may not recall the situation clearly enough for it to be admissible in court.

Although most states abide by the 72-hour period to formally press charges against a suspect, there is no nationwide standard for how quickly a case heads to trial. Instead, a judge administers a balancing test to consider the competing interests of the defendant and the government’s responsibility to keep the public safe.

For example, a murder trial may take longer to go to trial, because the court does not want to quickly release a potentially dangerous suspect into the community before they can obtain enough facts to move forward with the case. This balancing test will determine why delays take place, how long the delays are expected to last, whether the wait will compromise the defendant’s case, and whether the defendant has asserted their speedy trial right.