Rachael has a background in secondary education and has practiced law for eight years.
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.
There are two ways that the right to a speedy trial has been addressed. First, many states have passed laws that put a specific time limit on how quickly a defendant may be brought to trial. Other states require that defendants demand their right to a speedy trial or that right is considered to be given up or waived. Neither of these methods alone is sufficient; these methods must be balanced to determine whether the right has been violated.
A balancing test must be done on a case-by-case basis. Questions should be asked about why the prosecutor or defendant is asking for the delay, if there is a possibility that the witnesses will become unavailable, if the defendant is deprived of any other rights while awaiting trial (for example, if he is sitting in a jail cell).
In Barker's case, he did not object to the first eleven continuances by the prosecutor. He was out on bond after ten months, so he was able to carry on a somewhat normal life during those years. Additionally, it appeared from the evidence that Barker did not believe Manning would be convicted. If Manning wasn't convicted, it was very unlikely he would be. Because of all these factors, Barker's right to a speedy trial was not violated by the delays in his prosecution.
The Sixth Amendment provides that a person is entitled to a speedy trial. Barker v. Wingo (Supreme Court of the United States, 1972) explores the right to a speedy trial and distinguishes between when delays in trial are allowed and when they violate a defendant's constitutional rights. Some states have a time limit as to what is considered 'speedy~,' and others require that a person demand a speedy trial. The courts need to look at the factors of each case to determine if the delay is prejudicial to the defendant.
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