U.S. Supreme Court

Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial doesn't apply to sentencing, Supreme Court says

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The Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial doesn’t protect the right to a speedy sentence, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Thursday.

The court ruled against Brandon Betterman, who pleaded guilty to a bail jumping charge in Montana and waited in jail more than 14 months before his sentencing. He had claimed the delay should entitle him to a reduction of 14 months in his sentence.

The Sixth Amendment guarantee “protects the accused from arrest or indictment through trial, but does not apply once a defendant has been found guilty at trial or has pleaded guilty to criminal charges,” the court said in a unanimous opinion (PDF) by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The right to a speedy trial “detaches upon conviction,” she said.

Ginsburg noted that Betterman had pressed a Sixth Amendment claim but had not sought relief under the due process clause. As a result, the court confined its opinion to the Sixth Amendment issue.

A due process claim might entitle a defendant who faces “inordinate delay in sentencing” to “tailored relief” in appropriate circumstances, Ginsburg said.

A concurrence by Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., stressed that the Supreme Court had never ruled whether a defendant is entitled to a prompt sentencing hearing under the due process clause, and the decision takes no position on the issue.

In a separate concurrence, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said she would use a four-factor test in cases involving sentencing delays and the due process clause.

The New York Times covers the decision here.

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