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Federal Speedy Trial Act - Stampede Into Ambush

NCJ Number
John Marshall Law Review Volume: 16 Issue: 1 Dated: (Fall 1982) Pages: 27-48
R L Doyel
Date Published
22 pages
The Speedy Trial Act of 1974 has not achieved its original purposes, since the law's severe time limitations, the virtually unlimited preaccusation delay, and the nondiscoverability of names and addresses of witnesses combine to give an unfair advantage to the prosecutor.
The law's main purpose was to aid society in bringing criminals to justice promptly. Enhancing the accused's right to a speedy trial was only an incidental motive. Although the prosecutor often has substantially unlimited time for thorough preparation before seeking an indictment, the defense attorney generally has at most 70 days after the indictment to prepare for trial. This brief preparation time is often insufficient for reasons which may not be subject to objective proof, resulting in prejudice to the defendant's case. In addition, the prosecutor may have surprise witnesses, whose identities are not discoverable. Several interim measures would help reduce these problems. Trial courts could more liberally grant requests for continuances. Another alternative would be to permit the defendant to waive the 70-day indictment to trial time limitation. Finally, disclosure of the names of witnesses and their statements by court order would aid the defendant's discovery procedures. Congress could also amend the law, extending the 70-day time and permitting the discovery of names and addresses of potential witnesses, which would also reduce the current hardship encountered by the defense because of the strict time limit. A total of 128 notes are provided. (Author summary modified)