Criminal prosecutions

The Law

The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads, “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; 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” (1).

The Speedy Trial Act of 1974 and state laws provide guidance as to the number of days to bring a defendant to trial before this right is violated. A prosecutor may work around the “speedy trial clock” if they can show good cause for a delay, or if a defendant agrees to waive the right. One reason for the right to a speedy trial is to prevent a defendant from being held in custody only to find out that the defendant was innocent. An innocent citizen who is incarcerated in violation of the Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial is a violation of due process rights (2).

The Facts

Ben was indicted on 24 state counts of possession of fentanyl, with intent to distribute near an elementary school, and federal racketeering charges in September 2019. While Ben sat in jail, his attorney was able to delay his jury trial a few times so he could gather witnesses for Ben’s defense. In March 2020, Ben’s attorney submitted a motion to dismiss the charges for a violation of Ben’s Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial. The hearing was set for March 28. On March 15, the Governor of the state ordered all courts to close and suspended jury trials due to public safety concerns over COVID-19. Ben did not get his hearing and remained in jail.

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