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  • Will Kelbaugh

Constitutional Right to a Speedy Trial

The Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution specifies that, “[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial,” U.S. Const., Amend. VI. Similarly, the Georgia Constitution specifies that “[i]n criminal cases, the defendant shall have a public and speedy trial....” Ga. Const., Art. I, Sec. I, Par. XI (a). Courts use the principles set out in Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514, 92 S.Ct. 2182, 33 L.Ed.2d 101 (1972), and Doggett v. United States, 505 U.S. 647, 112 S.Ct. 2686, 120 L.Ed.2d 520 (1992), when they consider whether delays in criminal trials are a denial of an accused person's right to a speedy trial. Courts use the factors in Barker and Doggett when evaluating claims under the United States Constitution and Georgia Constitution. Redd v. State, 261 Ga. 300, 301, n. 1, 404 S.E.2d 264 (1991).

When examining a motion to dismiss an indictment for a violation of an accused person's right to a speedy trial, the court first determines whether the delay is long enough to raise a presumption of prejudice. In most cases, a delay approaching one year is sufficient to justify further examination. When a delay raises a presumption of prejudice and further examination is justified, the court must consider "[1] whether [the] delay before trial was uncommonly long, [2] whether the government or the criminal defendant is more to blame for that delay, [3] whether, in due course, the defendant asserted his right to a speedy trial, and [4] whether he suffered prejudice as the delay's result." Doggett, 505 U.S. at 651(II), 112 S.Ct. 2686." Those four factors are commonly called the "Barker-Doggett" factors.

In State v. Buckner, 292 Ga. 390, 738 S.E.2d 65 (Ga. 2013), the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed a trial court's order dismissing an indictment that included murder, kidnapping, and child molestation. The opinion offers a good lesson about the power of the standard of review on appeal, and the facts that supported the dismissal of an indictment in a very serious case. In Buckner, the Court stated that "[t]here are some things about which reasonable people can reasonably disagree, and under settled Georgia law, when reasonable people could reasonably disagree about the weighing and balancing of the Barker–Doggett factors, we must defer to the judgment of the trial court." Id. at 399, 738 S.E.2d at 74.

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