Barker v. Wingo: Case Brief

Instructor: Rachael Smith

Rachael has a background in secondary education and has practiced law for eight years.

In this lesson, we'll explore the U.S. Supreme Court case of Barker v. Wingo, which explores the right to a speedy trial. A quiz will follow in order to test your understanding of the key concepts of the case.


Silas Manning and Willie Barker were arrested in 1958 for the murders of an elderly couple. The prosecutor believed that he had a stronger case against Manning, so he hoped to use Manning's trial testimony to convict Barker. They asked for a continuance of Barker's trial so that Manning's trial could be completed. Barker did not object to the continuance request.

Manning, however, decided not to testify at his own trial. A jury is required to make a unanimous (meaning that everyone must agree) decision that a defendant is either guilty or not guilty. His trial ended in a hung jury when the jury could not make a unanimous decision.

Manning was tried again, but his conviction was reversed on appeal because the Court of Appeals determined that evidence was obtained as a result of an illegal search. Manning was convicted at his third trial, but the conviction was reversed again. The fourth trial resulted in another hung jury. Finally, Manning was convicted at his fifth trial of one murder and was convicted of the second murder at his sixth trial. In all, it took six trials and eight years to convict Manning.

During Manning's entire trial process and two appeals, the prosecutor continued to request continuances of Barker's trials. Barker was able to post bond after ten months in jail and was released. Barker and his attorney did not object to the first eleven continuances of his trial. After that, Barker began to ask that his case be dismissed. He was unsuccessful and was finally tried, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison in 1963.

Barker appealed several times but was unsuccessful. He then asked that the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) review his case.

Issue and Rule of Law

Did all the delays in Barker's case violate his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial?

The right to a speedy trial is not a hard and fast rule. The court should balance the reasons for the delays, the defendant's response to the delays, and the prejudice that any delay caused the defendant to determine if there was a violation of the defendant's right to a speedy trial.


Besides the fact that a defendant is entitled to a speedy trial, there are multiple reasons why trials should not be delayed.

Delaying trials can:

  • Create a backlog of cases to be heard by a court
  • Promote greater plea deals for defendants
  • Provide defendants out on bond a greater opportunity to commit additional crimes
  • Provide more opportunity for defendants to leave the jurisdiction
  • Affect rehabilitation because of the time between when a crime is committed and when a defendant is sentenced

Defendants can use the delays to their advantage. When trials are delayed, witnesses can become unavailable to testify, or their memories may be affected by time. They may not remember events two years later as well as they did six months later.

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