Sixth Amendment Court Cases - Speedy Trial Clause

Each of these Sixth Amendment Court Cases is somehow significant to the way the Supreme Court has interpreted the Speedy Trial Clause in the Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution. Well, most are significant, some are just interesting! You can read about the history and meaning of the Sixth Amendment here.

Sixth Amendment Court Cases

Sixth Amendment Court Cases -
Speedy Trial Clause cases -
Barker vs. Wingo

The Barker vs. Wingo, 1972, case lays out the Court's method for determining if someone's right to a speedy trial has been violated. The Court decided that Speedy Trial Clause violation claims must be decided on a case by case basis, but they did identify four factors that might affect the decision for lower courts to follow. These four factors are:

  1. The length of delay. The Court has never set a specific time limit for when a speedy trial must occur. Lower courts normally look into right to speedy trial violation claims if at has been 6-8 months.
  2. The reason for the delay. If the reason for delay is a deliberate attempt to hamper the defense, this weighs heavily against the government. If the reason is for something such as negligence or overcrowded courts, this weighs against the government, but not as much. Or, there may be valid reasons for a delay, such as a missing witness.
  3. Whether and when the defendant asserted his right to a speedy trial. If the case drags on and on and the defendant doesn't make this claim for a long time, he might lose the right because he has been agreeing to waive the right for so long.
  4. The degree of harm to the defendant that the delay has caused. For example, if a witness who would have testified in favor of the defendant has died during the long wait, this weighs heavily in the defendant's favor.

Using these criteria, the Court found that a murder conviction after a five year wait did not amount to a speedy trial violation. The main factor was that the defendant did not assert that his right to a speedy trial was being violated until three and a half years had passed.

Supreme Court

Sixth Amendment Court Cases -
Speedy Trial Clause cases-
Strunk vs. United States

In Strunk vs. United States, 1973, the defendant claimed that he had been denied a speedy trial in a federal automobile theft case, even though he was already in a state prison on other state charges. The district court denied his motion.

The Appeals court agreed that he had been denied his right to a speedy trial, but said that the extreme nature of overturning the conviction was not warranted and sent the case back to the district court, instructing it to reduce the sentence by 259 days, the length of the delay.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the Court made it clear that the only remedy for a right to speedy trial violation is to throw out the conviction. The right that is being protected is the defendant's right to not have a lengthy wait between arrest or indictment and the trial. If this right is violated, then the case must be thrown out.

Sixth Amendment Cases - Speedy Trial Clause cases -
Smith vs. Hooey

In Smith vs. Hooey, 1969, the defendant was in a federal prison when he was charged with a Texas crime. Seven years later, the defendant was still in federal prison, and the State of Texas still had not prosecuted its case. The defendant claimed that his right to a speedy trial had been violated.

The case made it all the way to the Supreme Court. The Court agreed that the defendant's right to a speedy trial had been violated and that the charges must be dropped because the state had not even made an effort to try the case. The Court's ruling included the following statement about the purpose of the Speedy Trial Clause in the 6th Amendment:

"...this constitutional guarantee has universally been thought essential to protect at least three basic demands of criminal justice in the Anglo-American legal system: to prevent undue and oppressive incarceration prior to trial to minimize anxiety and concern accompanying public accusation and to limit the possibilities that long delay will impair the ability of an accused to defend himself."


Read more about the history and meaning of the Speedy Trial Clause here.
Read more about the history and meaning of the 6th Amendment here.

Learn more about Sixth Amendment relating to the following Sixth Amendment clauses:

Sixth Amendment Court Cases - Public Trial Clause
Sixth Amendment Court Cases - Right to Trial by Jury Clause
Sixth Amendment Court Cases - Arraignment Clause
Sixth Amendment Court Cases - Confrontation Clause
Sixth Amendment Court Cases - Compulsory Process Clause
Sixth Amendment Court Cases - Right to Counsel Clause


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Revolutionary War and Beyond!



If you would like to read about the meanings of each amendment, go to the First Ten Amendments page here.
Amendments: Preamble to the Bill of Rights
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