No Constitutional Right to “Speedy Trial” After Guilty Plea Has Been Entered – Betterman v. Montana

People accused of crimes in the United States are afforded certain rights under the U.S. Constitution. Included within these rights are the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, the Fifth Amendment right to remain silent to avoid self-incrimination, and the Sixth Amendment right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury.

Recently, the nation’s highest court was asked to consider whether the rights guaranteed under the Sixth Amendment also apply to the post-conviction or sentencing phase of a criminal prosecution.

Facts of the Case

In the case of Betterman v. Montana, the defendant was ordered to appear in court on domestic assault charges. Instead, he allegedly failed to appear and then jumped bail. He was then charged with bail jumping. He entered a plea of guilty on the bail jumping charge and, for the next 14 months, was incarcerated while awaiting his sentence (which, ultimately, was seven years imprisonment with four years suspended). The defendant appealed his sentence, arguing that the lengthy gap between his guilty plea and his sentence violated his right to a speedy trial under the Sixth Amendment.

The Montana Supreme Court disagreed and affirmed the defendant’s conviction and sentence. He sought further review via a writ of certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court’s Decision

The court affirmed the decision of the Montana Supreme Court. The Court first noted that there are three discrete phases to a criminal case:  the investigative phase, the trial (or guilty plea) phase, and the sentencing phase. Each phase has certain checks against delays. For instance, the statute of limitations for the crime at issue provides protection against delays during the investigative phase. The Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial attaches during the second phase of the prosecution, beginning when the defendant is arrested or formally accused of a crime. The purpose of the Speedy Trial Clause is to minimize the anxiety and concern of facing a criminal charge and to limit the effect of a long delay on the ability of the defendant to defend himself or herself. Once a defendant has been convicted or has pleaded guilty, the Speedy Trial guarantee is no longer relevant.

The Court noted that other procedural safeguards apply in the post-conviction phase, including the right to a sentencing proceeding that is fundamentally fair and the right to due process. Since the defendant did not advance such arguments, however, the court expressed no opinion as to whether these rights were violated in the underlying proceedings.

If You Need Help with a Criminal Matter

The Sixth Amendment also includes the right to the assistance of counsel. If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime and needs reliable advice, the experienced Cape Cod criminal defense attorneys at the Law Offices of John C. Manoog, III, can help. Call us at 888-262-6664 to schedule an appointment in either our Hyannis or Plymouth office. We serve all of Cape Cod and the surrounding area.

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