What is the Right to a Speedy Trial?

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  • Written By: Contel Bradford
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 25 January 2020
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The right to a speedy trial refers to a specific right of a defendant in the United States, per the Six Amendment of the US Constitution. It exists to ensure that an individual who has been charged with a federal crime does not have to wait in jail for an unreasonably long period of time before his or her trial. If this right is found to have been violated, the charges against the defendant can be dropped and the entire case may be dismissed. While this right was originally derived from the US Constitution, which is a federal legislation, it also applies to criminal proceedings in many states.

Contrary to popular belief, the right to a speedy trial is not applicable to all stages of criminal cases. In fact, it only applies after an individual has either been arrested, indicted, or formally accused of committing a federal crime in other ways. If a person has not been formally accused, the courts are not obligated to take any type of action against a defendant in a specific amount of time.


Although the Six Amendment in the US Constitution serves the purpose of guaranteeing the right to a speedy trial, there is no set standard in terms of how fast a given trial is to proceed. The length of time is typically defined by the statutory limitations of a certain crime in respect to specific jurisdictions. For example, in the state of California, a defendant must be brought to trial within 60 days. There are, however, exceptions that impact statutes and how they define the period of a speedy trial. Examples would be a delay made at the request of the defense or otherwise justifiable reasons for delaying the preceding trial.

There are some regions that do not have specific statutory limitations regarding a speedy trial. In these jurisdictions, the courts are usually responsible for defining the time period. They often consider the reason and length of the delay, in addition to the defendant's assertion of the right. The courts also take any prejudice that may have caused the delay into account. In almost all jurisdictions, the time frame for defendants who are incarcerated differs from those who have been released on bail.

The right to a speedy trial may appear simple on the surface, but it can actually be one of the most complex aspects of the legal system. For this reason, defendants looking to exercise this right are advised to consult with a qualified attorney. An experienced attorney can inform the defendant on his or her rights and where he or she stands in regard to the court system.


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