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Constitional Issues

Speedy Trial

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The following is not legal advice but is for information only. Legal advice is when an attorney applies the law to a person's individual circumstances and advises them on their legal options or potential exposure to legal harm, which a web page clearly does not.

In theory, the right to a speedy trial is supposed to provide a guarantee to individuals accused of crimes that justice delayed is not denied. It is also supposed to protect defendants from prolonged pretrial detention, anxiety, and the potential for an unfair trial due to faded memories or lost evidence. However, in practice, it is currently a right in name only.

The ‘right’ has two bases in Maine. It exists under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article 1 Section 6 of Maine’s Constitution. A recent case in Maine’s highest court examined this right under state constitutional law, really without definitive guardrails of what it means and when it is violated. It has been decades since Maine’s high court has decided that the right to a speedy trial was violated.


Reasonable delays can occur due to various factors, such as the complexity of the case, availability of witnesses, or necessary preparation time for both the prosecution and defense. Courts must balance the defendant's right to a speedy trial with other legitimate interests, such as the need to conduct a thorough investigation, ensure fairness, and maintain an orderly administration of justice.

Several factors are considered in any analysis about whether a violation of the ‘right’ had occurred. Courts typically consider the length of the delay, the reason for the delay, the defendant's assertion of their right, and any prejudice the defendant may have suffered as a result. Remedies include dismissing the charges, excluding evidence, or other measures aimed at rectifying the harm caused by the delay.

However, if a delay has occurred to the extent that it is constitutional violation, the chance of winning a motion to dismiss as the remedy is currently very slim. The legislature has considered more definitively defining the constitutional right that Maine’s high court has not. Given delays caused by the pandemic and the overwhelmed court system, this issue is likely to continue to get further attention from lawmakers.

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