The Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution states, “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial. . .”[1] This clause protects against delays between the time an individual is indicted (or charged) and the beginning of the criminal trial. In 1972, the Supreme Court set forth the following four factors to determine whether an individual’s right to a speedy trial had been violated: 1) the length of the delay;

2) the reason for the delay;

3) the individual’s assertion of her or his right, and:

4) prejudice to the individual.[2]

Using these factors as part of a balancing test, courts have repeatedly determined whether a Sixth Amendment violation had occurred. But does this protection apply to all stages of the criminal trial process – including sentencing?

The Supreme Court recently ruled that the Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial does not protect an individual’s right to a speedy sentencing. Justice Ginsburg, in the Court’s unanimous decision in Betterman v. Montana, states, “The Sixth Amendment’s Speedy Trial Clause homes in on the second period: from arrest or indictment through conviction. The constitutional right, our precedent holds, does not attach until this phase begins, that is, when a defendant is arrested or formally accused. Today we hold that the right detaches upon conviction, when this second stage ends.”[3] This decision came down after Petitioner Brandon Betterman was jailed for over 14 months after his conviction waiting to be sentenced, mainly due to an institutional delay. He argued that the 14-month wait from the time he was convicted to the time he was sentenced violated his right to a speedy trial. However, the Supreme Court ruled that the Sixth Amendment’s protection of an individual’s right to a speedy trial does not apply once a defendant has been found guilty at trial or pleaded guilty.

It is important to note that a violation of the Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial warrants dismissal of a criminal case. Thus, based on this decision, once a defendant is actually convicted, her/his right to a speedy trial ends. If you or someone you know has been prevented from beginning trial without delay after being charged with a crime, an experienced civil rights attorney can help determine whether a Sixth Amendment Violation has occurred.

–By Ara M. Baghdassarian is an associate attorney with Barnes Law, licensed to practice law in California.

 The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the firm, its clients, or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.


[1] U.S. Const. amend. VI; http://constitution.findlaw.com/amendment6.html

[2] Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 530 (1972); https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/407/514/case.html

[3] Betterman v. Montana, 587 U.S. __ (2016); https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/578/14-1457/