This week the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the Constitution’s guarantee of a speedy trial does not protect people convicted of crimes from lengthy sentencing delays, reported the New York Times.
The case, Betterman v. Montana, No. 14-1457, concerned Brandon T. Betterman, who pleaded guilty to jumping bail in the spring of 2012. He spent the next 14 months in a Montana jail waiting to hear what his sentence would be.
He complained to the judge, saying the delay had put him on an “emotional roller coaster due to the anxiety and depression caused by the uncertainty.” In the summer of 2013, the judge finally sentenced him to seven years in prison, with four years suspended.
The long delay, Mr. Betterman said, had violated his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the court, rejected the argument. There is a difference between trials, which adjudicate guilt, and sentencings, which determine punishment, she wrote.
“As a measure protecting the presumptively innocent, the speedy trial right — like other similarly aimed measures — loses force upon conviction,” Justice Ginsburg said.
She added that “the sole remedy for a violation of the speedy trial right” is dismissal of the charges, which “would be an unjustified windfall, in most cases, to remedy sentencing delay by vacating validly obtained convictions.”
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