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Barker v. Wingo

    Brief Fact Summary. Petitioner brought this action to have his conviction overturned when, after sixteen (16) continuances, over a five year period, he was finally tried and convicted for murder.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. While there is a right to a speed trial, it is incumbent upon a defendant to assert that his right has been compromised should he not get one.

    Facts. In July of 1958, an elderly couple was beaten to death by intruders. One of the Suspects, Willie Barker. They were indicted on September 15th of that same year, counsel was appointed and the Commonweath decided to try Manning first to obtain a conviction before trying Barker. Manning was tried six times, the first four of which were fraught with mistakes and resulted in new trials. In February of 1963, after Manning was found guilty of the both murders, the Commonwealth moved to have Barker’s trial scheduled. It was then continued twice more. At the commencement of the trial, Barker moved to have the case dismissed for lack of prosecution o the grounds that his right to a speedy trial had been violated. The Motion was denied and he was convicted and given a life sentence. Barker appealed and ultimately came to the Supreme Court.

    Issue. Whether a defendant must invoke the right to a speedy trial.

    Held. In its opinion, the Court used a four-factor balancing test to determine if the right to a speedy trial had been denied:
    The Length of the Delay: the court concedes that five years a great time for delay

    The governmental reasons for delay: to determine to delay in order to get a better witness against the defense is not a good reason; however, to do so because of witness availability is

    The defendant’s responsibility to assert his rights

    prejudice to the defendant

    In the case at hand, the court found that there had been little prejudice to the defendant, because he had failed to assert his right or object to the delays until they had already occurred. Also, the court felt that Barker was gambling on the outcome of Manning’s trial, which is why he waited for the delays. Thus, the court held that Barker was not prejudiced by the delay.

    Discussion. When a defendant wants to invoke the right to a speedy trial, he or she must actively do so.


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