The right to a speedy, public jury trial
The idealized image of the American criminal process is a trial in which a group of laypeople decide whether the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. As the last chapter made clear, however, trial occurs in less than 10 percent of all cases. Instead, the parties usually try to avoid trial, through negotiations that provide defendants with a lesser punishment than would be imposed upon conviction at trial and that allow the prosecution to save its resources for those cases that it cannot or will not resolve through plea bargaining.
When trial does occur, the Sixth Amendment states that the “accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury …; 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 defense.” The rights to speedy, public trial by an impartial jury are the subject of this chapter. The rights to confrontation, compulsory process, and counsel are the subject of the next.
The Supreme Court first articulated the interests protected by the speedy trial right in United States v. Ewell,1 which noted that a prompt trial prevents undue incarceration, reduces the anxiety accompanying public accusation, and minimizes impairment of the defendant’s case due to delay. In Barker v. Wingo,2 the Court elaborated that delay in adjudicating criminal charges disrupts the defendant’s family life and employment, drains resources, and prolongs stigmatization; if the...
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