When courts look at the criminal process, they see three distinct stages: Investigation, trial, and sentencing. The investigation stage lasts from when law enforcement first starts gathering evidence of a crime until a suspect gets charged. The trial stage lasts from the charge to the verdict. The last stage, sentencing, starts if the suspect is found guilty in trial or pleads guilty, and it lasts until the sentence is handed down.
During each stage, things can slow down and get delayed. If you've already been charged for a crime, or have been found guilty and are awaiting a sentence, then these delays can be especially troublesome, as your life basically stops until they're finished. Because of this, you have legal rights for these processes to move along at a good pace. For example, the Sixth Amendment guarantees your right to a “speedy trial.”
However, there has always been a question of when your right to a speedy trial ends. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court just answered this question in a way that severely limits your constitutional rights.
Your Sixth Amendment Right to a Speedy Trial
It has long been known that your Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial “turns on” when you get charged with a crime. However, there had never been a firm decision about when it “turned off,” and stopped protecting you from delays in the court system. This indecision, however, was put to rest recently when the Supreme Court heard the case Betterman v. Montana.
What Happened in Betterman
A Montana man named Brandon Betterman was charged for domestic violence. However, when his court date came, he didn't appear, leading to his arrest for jumping bail, which is a felony offense in Montana. He plead guilty to the felony charge, and awaited sentencing in jail. The sentence, however, took no fewer than fourteen months to hand down because of the backlog in the state's courts. His attorneys claimed that this violated his Sixth Amendment rights to a speedy trial, and appealed all the way to the Supreme Court.
Your Right to a Speedy Trial Ends With the Trial
After hearing the case, the Supreme Court said that the Sixth Amendment only applied to the trial stage of the criminal process, not to the sentencing part, meaning that your right to a speedy trial “turns off” once the judge hits the gavel and says, “guilty.”
However, the Court did not stop there. Just because the Sixth Amendment didn't apply to the sentencing portion of a criminal case did not mean that other constitutional rights, like your Due Process right, were also inapplicable. This leaves room for skilled criminal defense attorneys to fight for your interests, even after you have been found or plead guilty.
Maine Defense Attorney William T. Bly
With a strong reputation as one of the best criminal defense attorneys in the state of Maine, William T. Bly has a proven track record of representing those charged with crimes throughout the state. Contact his law office at (207) 571-8146 or online.