St. Mary's Law Journal


In Doggett v. United States, the Supreme Court held the filing of an indictment against a defendant activates his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial, notwithstanding the defendant not knowing of the indictment until his arrest. The right to a speedy trial serves to vindicate the rights of individuals who have incurred impediments to their personal liberty because of governmental negligence. The Court stated the Speedy Trial Clause aims to prevent undue and oppressive pre-trial incarceration, limit the anxiety accompanying public accusation, and diminish delays that might cripple a defendant’s ability to prepare an adequate defense. Since Doggett suffered no restriction of liberty, he should not be eligible to the presumption of prejudice that would normally attend so long a delay. Had the majority analyzed Doggett in terms of the effect of the delay, rather than merely in terms of the length of delay, it should have been obvious that Doggett’s situation raised no issues within the traditional scope of the Speedy Trial Clause. When a defendant is not subject to restraints on his freedom or the anxiety accompanying knowledge of an indictment’s existence, the Sixth Amendment is not implicated, and protection must come from due process guarantees. By applying speedy trial analysis to a situation in which the defendant is not harmed by the delay between his indictment and arrest, the Court has created a bright-line standard for determining speedy trial violations that focus solely on time. This transformation of the Speedy Trial Clause encourages judicial paternalism by forcing courts to second-guess and oversee the government’s prosecutorial efforts.


St. Mary's University School of Law