A recent case pending a decision from the United States Supreme Court has raised issues concerning a defendant’s constitutional right to a speedy trial. In Boyer v. Louisiana, the indigent defendant was not offered any form of defense counsel until five years after the charges were brought fourth. The state of Louisiana has suffered a severe lack of funding, resulting in many cases involving indigent defendants being delayed due to a lack of counsel. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari on the issue of whether the delay in the defendant receiving appointed counsel should count against the State in determining whether the defendant’s 6th Amendment right to a speedy trial was violated. The complete court filings before the United States Supreme Court can be found on the Scotus Blog.
The trial resulted in the defendant being convicted by a jury of second-degree murder. Although the defendant appealed a variety of issues, his main concern was that his right to a speedy trial was violated by the state of Louisiana.
The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution contains the speedy trial clause, along with other fundamental rights, such as the right to confront and cross examine witnesses and the right to an impartial jury.
The Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial requires that a the defendant must be brought within a reasonable time to trial. It also prevents the defendant from being held in jail for an extensive length of time before their trial date is set. There are various time limits, but the “start” time is usually whenever the indictment or arrest date was. This clause was installed to protect the defendant from an unfair prosecution.
As time passes, it is natural for critical witnesses to disappear and memories of the alleged crime to fade. The following factors are considered by the Court in determining whether there is a violation of the right to a speedy trial:
• The length of the delay • Reasons for the delay • When the defendant asserted his rights • If there was any prejudice to the defendant because of the delay
A defendant is allowed to waive his rights to a speedy trial by filing pretrial motions. As a Massachusetts criminal lawyer, in many cases, it will benefit a defendant by agreeing to delay a trial in order to allow for more time for preparation. In many cases, even if a trial is two years from the incident, there will be no speedy trial violation as typically a defense attorney has to agree to continue court dates in order to prepare the case for trial.
This case will help determine what obligation the State has in ensuring that a defendant receives counsel so that his speedy trial rights are not compromised as a result of a budget shortfall. In its brief before the United States Supreme Court, the State contends that the defendant was not unrepresented and that the defendant waived his speedy trial claim by not vigorously asserting his right to a speedy trial.