Speedy Trial Act of 1974

Speedy Trial Act of 1974, 18 U.S.C. § 3161 et seq., provides that criminal defendants be brought to trial within 70 days of their indictment or first appearance in court.  The Act is designed to give effect to the Sixth Amendment’s right of  a criminal defendant to speedy trial.

See United States Supreme Court Opinions on the Speedy Trial Act

Reference Desk

Zedner v. United States, 547 U.S. 489 (2006)

As noted above, the Speedy Trial Act generally requires a trial to begin within 70 days of the filing of an information or indictment or the defendant’s initial appearance, 18 U. S. C. § 3161(c)(1), but the Act recognizes that criminal cases vary widely and that there are valid reasons for greater delay in particular cases. To provide the necessary flexibility, the Act includes a long and detailed list of periods of delay that are excluded in computing the time within which trial must start. See § 3161(h). For example, the Act excludes “delay resulting from other proceedings concerning the defendant,” § 3161(h)(1), “delay resulting from the absence or unavailability of the defendant or an essential witness,” § 3161(h)(3)(A), “delay resulting from the fact that the defendant is mentally incompetent or physically unable to stand trial,” § 3161(h)(4), and “[a] reasonable period of delay when the defendant is joined for trial with a codefendant as to whom the time for trial has not run and no motion for severance has been granted,” § 3161(h)(7).

498*498 Much of the Act’s flexibility is furnished by § 3161(h)(8), which governs ends-of-justice continuances, and which we set out in relevant part in the margin.[3] This provision permits a district court to grant a continuance and to exclude the resulting delay if the court, after considering certain factors, makes on-the-record findings that the ends of justice 499*499 served by granting the continuance outweigh the public’s and defendant’s interests in a speedy trial. This provision gives the district court discretion—within limits and subject to specific procedures—to accommodate limited delays for case-specific needs.

To promote compliance with its requirements, the Act contains enforcement and sanctions provisions. If a trial does not begin on time, the defendant may move, before the start of trial or the entry of a guilty plea, to dismiss the charges, and if a meritorious and timely motion to dismiss is filed, the district court must dismiss the charges, though it may choose whether to dismiss with or without prejudice. In making that choice, the court must take into account, among other things, “the seriousness of the offense; the facts and circumstances of the case which led to the dismissal; and the impact of a reprosecution on the administration of [the Act] and on the administration of justice.” § 3162(a)(2).

This scheme is designed to promote compliance with the Act without needlessly subverting important criminal prosecutions. The more severe sanction (dismissal with prejudice) is available for use where appropriate, and the knowledge that a violation could potentially result in the imposition of this sanction gives the prosecution a powerful incentive to be careful about compliance. The less severe sanction (dismissal without prejudice) lets the court avoid unduly impairing the enforcement of federal criminal laws— though even this sanction imposes some costs on the prosecution and the court, which further encourages compliance. When an indictment is dismissed without prejudice, the prosecutor may of course seek—and in the great majority of cases will be able to obtain—a new indictment, for even if “the period prescribed by the applicable statute of limitations has expired, a new indictment may be returned . . . within six calendar months of the date of the dismissal.” § 3288.

Bloate v. United States, 559 U.S. 196 (2010)

As noted, the Speedy Trial Act requires that a criminal defendant’s trial commence within 70 days of a defendant’s initial appearance or indictment, but excludes from the 70-day period days lost to certain types of delay. Section 3161(h) specifies the types of delays that are excludable from the calculation. Some of these delays are excludable only if the district court makes certain findings enumerated in the statute. See § 3161(h)(7). Other delays are automatically excludable, i.e., they may be excluded without district court findings. As relevant here, subsection (h)(1) requires the automatic exclusion of “[a]ny period of delay resulting from other proceedings concerning the defendant, 1352*1352 including but not limited to” periods of delay resulting from eight enumerated subcategories of proceedings.[7] The Government contends that the time the District Court granted petitioner to prepare his pretrial motions is automatically excludable under subsection (h)(1). We disagree, and conclude that such time may be excluded only when a district court enters appropriate findings under subsection (h)(7).

Related entries