Right to a Speedy Trial

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The right to a speedy trial is intended to guarantee that defendants are not subjected to prolonged or unreasonable periods of pre-trial detention. The exact scope of the right depends on the jurisdiction. In some cases, a flexible "reasonableness" standard is utilized while in other cases the prosecution is tasked with being ready for trial by a fixed deadline. Speedy trial protects "at least three basic demands of criminal justice . . . '[1] to prevent undue and oppressive incarceration prior to trial, [2] to minimize anxiety and concern accompanying public accusation, and [3] to limit the possibilities that long delay will impair the ability of an accused to defend himself."[1] Long periods of pre-trial detention can result in job loss and disruption to family life.

Speedy trial also serves an important function in deterrence of crime as studies have shown that the shorter the time between the violation and the punishment, the more effective the deterrent effect.[2]


Contents

International Sources

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

Article 14, Section 3 -

"In the determination of any criminal charge against him, everyone shall be entitled to the following minimum guarantees, in full equality: (a) To be informed promptly and in detail in a language which he understands of the nature and cause of the charge against him; (b) To have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defence and to communicate with counsel of his own choosing; (c) To be tried without undue delay;"

Examples of the right to a speedy trial

New York, United States

New York Criminal Procedure Code Section 30.30 calls for specific deadlines determined by the class of the offense:

  • 30.30 Speedy trial; time limitations.
  1. Except as otherwise provided in subdivision three, a motion made pursuant to paragraph (e) of subdivision one of section 170.30 or paragraph (g) of subdivision one of section 210.20 must be granted where the people are not ready for trial within:
    • (a) six months of the commencement of a criminal action wherein a defendant is accused of one or more offenses, at least one of which is a felony;
    • (b) ninety days of the commencement of a criminal action wherein a defendant is accused of one or more offenses, at least one of which is a misdemeanor punishable by a sentence of imprisonment of more than three months and none of which is a felony;
    • (c) sixty days of the commencement of a criminal action wherein the defendant is accused of one or more offenses, at least one of which is a misdemeanor punishable by a sentence of imprisonment of not more than three months and none of which is a crime punishable by a sentence of imprisonment of more than three months;
    • (d) thirty days of the commencement of a criminal action wherein the defendant is accused of one or more offenses, at least one of which is a violation and none of which is a crime.

United States

In the United States, a defendant has the right to a speedy trial under the Sixth Amendment "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy trial"[3]. The U.S. Supreme Court analyzes four factors when determining if this right has been violated:

  1. length of delay
  2. reason for delay
  3. whether defendant claimed speedy trial
  4. prejudice resulting from the delay.[4]

Both the Federal Court and most state courts have adopted strict time limits that protect the defendant's right to a speedy trial.

India

The Constitution provides an accused the right to a speedy trial. Although this right is not explicitly stated in the constitution, it has been interpreted by the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India in the judgment of Hussainara Khatoon.19 This judgment mandates that an investigation in trial should be held "as expeditiously as possible".20 In all summons trials (cases where the maximum punishment is two years imprisonment) once the accused has been arrested, the investigation for the trial must be completed within six months or stopped on an order of the Magistrate, unless the Magistrate receives and accepts, with his reasons in writing, that there is cause to extend the investigation.21 The accused is not to be detained in police custody for more than 24 hours without being produced before a Magistrate.22 An officer not below the rank of sub-inspector is to transfer the accused to a Judicial Magistrate who may allow the accused to be held for up to fifteen days in police custody. If a Judicial Magistrate is not available, an Executive Magistrate so empowered by the High Court may allow for a detention of up to seven days, which a Judicial Magistrate may extend up to not more than fifteen days in total. At the expiration of these fifteen days, if a Magistrate believes adequate grounds exist, he may allow for the suspect to remain in the judicial custody for a period up to ninety days total (including the original fifteen) for a case involving potential punishment of more than ten years imprisonment or up to sixty days for all other cases. The accused has the right to get bail in case the prosecution fails to submit the charge sheet within a period of ninety days of such custody.

In cases involving punishment of more than ten years; the charge sheet has to be submitted within a period of sixty days by the prosecuting agency.23 The following factors should be considered in determining whether an accused's right to a fair trial has been compromised: period of the delay, reason for the delay, whether the accused asserted his right, and prejudice to the accused. Loss of evidence, such as the death of a key witness, or the inability of witnesses to testify accurately after a long delay, can be powerful tools for the defense.

Kenya

Constitution

The right to a speedy trial is aimed at ensuring that an accused is not subjected to lengthy periods of incarceration before trial begins. The right is guaranteed under Article 50(2)(e) of the Constitution, which states that an accused person is entitled to have the trial begin and conclude without unreasonable delay.

  • 72(3) A person who is arrested or detained
    • (a) for the purpose of bringing him before a court in execution of the order of a court; or
    • (b) upon reasonable suspicion of his having committed, or being about to commit, a criminal offence,
  • and who is not released, shall be brought before a court as soon as is reasonably practicable, and where he is not brought before a court within twenty-four hours of his arrest or from the commencement of his detention, or within fourteen days of his arrest or detention where he is arrested or detained upon reasonable suspicion of his having committed or about to commit an offence punishable by death, the burden of proving that the person arrested or detained has been brought before a court as soon as is reasonably practicable shall rest upon any person alleging that the provisions of this subsection have been complied with.
  • 72(5) If a person arrested or detained as mentioned in subsection (3)(b) is not tried within a reasonable time, then without prejudice to any further proceedings that may be brought against him, he shall, unless he is charged with an offence punishable by death, be released either unconditionally or upon reasonable conditions, including in particular such conditions as are reasonably necessary to ensure that he appears at a later date for trial or for proceedings preliminary to trial.

Zimbabwe

  • "Every person is entitled to a fair hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial court" (Constitution of Zimbabwe)

Uganda

Constitution

  • 23 article 6. Where a person is arrested in respect of a criminal offence
    • (b) in the case of an offence which is triable by the High Court as well as by a subordinate court, the person shall be released on bail on such conditions as the court considers reasonable, if that person has been remanded in custody in respect of the offence before trial for one hundred and twenty days;
    • (c) in the case of an offence triable only by the High Court, the person shall be released on bail on such conditions as the court considers reasonable, if the person has been remanded in custody for three hundred and sixty days before the case is committed to the High Court.



See Rights of the Accused

Notes

  1. Smith v. Hooey, 393 U.S. 374 (1969)
  2. Jeffrey Rosen, Prisoners on Parole, NY Times, January 10, 2010
  3. U.S. Constitution, 6th Amendment
  4. Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514 (1972)