Justice Is the Crime: Pretrial Delay in Felony Cases

By Lewis Katz; Lawrence Litwin et al. | Go to book overview
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DELAY IN THE COURTS

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy . . . trial. . . . U. S. CONST. amend. VI.

The right to a speedy trial is guaranteed to every United States citizen by the Sixth Amendment, and in 1967 the United States Supreme Court held that the federal right applied to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment.1 That a speedy trial heads the list of trial rights enumerated in the Sixth Amendment is no accident, since without a trial or the threat of trial there can be no justice,2 only unproved accusations hanging over a defendant's head. Further, justice that is delayed is more prone to error when the case is finally tried than is justice administered while the facts surrounding an incident are fresh in the minds of those involved.3 Despite society's need and the constitutional mandate for swift justice, in the last decade courts have had increasing difficulty assuring a speedy trial to all persons charged with a criminal offense. The reality of this statement does not become apparent until one realizes just how inadequate the actual court performance is when measured against reasonable time guidelines for case disposition.


MINIMUM ACCEPTABLE STANDARDS FOR PROSECUTION OF A CRIME AND THE REALITIES OF DELAY

The President's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice, created by executive order in July, 1965, was born of the need to recognize and investigate the challenge of crime in this country.4 With

____________________
1
Klopfer v. North Carolina, 386 U. S. 213 ( 1967).
2
"Justice delayed is not only justice denied, it is justice circumvented, justice mocked, and the system of justice undermined." Speech by President Nixon, National Conference of the Judiciary, in Williamsburg, Virginia, Mar. 11, 1971.
3
Delay creates the possibility that witnesses will die or disappear and that memories will fade. Ponzi v. Fessenden, 258 U.S. 254, 264 ( 1922).
4
Exec. Order No. 11, 236, 3 C. F. R. 329 (Supp. 1964-1965).

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