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Barker v. Wingo

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Significance: To decide whether a trial was delayed for an unreasonable period of time, the Supreme Court established a balancing test with four factors: length of the delay, reasons for the delay, the defendant's assertion of the right to a speedy trial, and prejudice to the defendant from the delay.


Two defendants, Barker and Manning, were charged with a brutal murder. Because the case against Manning was very strong, he was tried first, then he was to be a witness in Barker's trial. As a result of difficulties in prosecuting Manning, the trial of Barker was delayed for five years from the time of his arrest. After being found guilty, Barker appealed on the grounds that the long delay violated his right to a speedy trial. His lawyers referred to Dickey v. Florida (1970), in which an eight-year delay had been found to be unconstitutional. The Supreme Court unanimously rejected Barker's claim. Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr.'s opinion for the majority was based on a balancing test. The delay of the trial, while long, was not unreasonable in view of the unavailability of an important witness; the defendant had been slow to register objections to the delay; and there was no evidence that the delay caused any prejudice in the trial. Much of the public disagreed with the Barker opinion. In 1974 Congress passed the Speedy Trial Act, requiring federal trials to take place one hundred days after an arrest. Most states have enacted similar laws.