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Speedy Trial Rights and the Coronavirus
The U.S. Supreme Court announced that it is postponing upcoming oral arguments. The last time that it did that was more than a hundred years ago in 1918 as a response to the Spanish flu. Case in point that our judicial system is undergoing strains that, while not entirely unprecedented, are rarely seen. And that strain will test constitutional values in the months to come.
The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees American defendants the right to a speedy trial. This right has a noble lineage. It was memorialized in the Magna Carta, and our founding fathers recognized it as a fundamental stalwart of liberty.
But the public health crisis left in the wake of Coronavirus—with social-distancing practices and orders to shelter-in-place—leaves serious questions about our criminal justice system’s ability to cope with the fallout.
State and federal courts across the country are suspending and postponing criminal jury trials. More will come. The only question is: for how long?
The United States has the largest prisoner population in the world—with some 2-million-plus inmates. That figure implies a significant pipeline of would-be prisoners or convicts. So the question has serious systemic implications.
The Sixth Amendment provides:
“[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy ... more
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