Betterman v. Montana and Your Sixth Amendment Rights

Your Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial is among the most important protections that you have if you have been charged with a crime. The right to a speedy trial not only prevents the government from dragging its feet after charging you with a crime, but also eliminates the possibility of them charging you and then not bringing you to trial – a favorite tactic of countries that take individual liberties less seriously.

The right to a speedy trial ends with the trial itself. This is an important development in the law that happened just recently and has the potential to be a crucial change in how the criminal justice system works.

Betterman v. Montana

The case that changed your right to a speedy trial started simply enough in the state of Montana. Brandon Betterman was arrested, charged with a crime of domestic violence, and released on bail. He was given a court date, but when that day came, he was nowhere to be found. In Montana, jumping bail is a felony offense. When he was arrested for jumping bail, he pleaded guilty to the felony, and waited for his sentence.

Unfortunately, the court system in Montana is backed up. The presentencing process took the court five months to complete, and it took the court several more months to deal with a mere two motions, one of which was to dismiss the charge for undue delay. By the time Mr. Betterman’s sentence was handed down, it had been fourteen months since his guilty plea, and he had been in jail the whole time.

His attorneys appealed the sentence, claiming that it had taken so long that it violated his Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial. The Montana Supreme Court disagreed, and the Supreme Court of the United States took the case.

The Supreme Court Says Your Speedy Trial Right Does Not Apply to Sentencing

Noting that the right to a speedy trial was meant to protect people who were accused from languishing on an unresolved criminal charge, the Supreme Court decided that the right did not apply to those who had already been convicted. Therefore, the right to a speedy trial did not extend past the trial stage of a criminal case and into the sentencing stage.

However, the Supreme Court did point out that this did not mean that there were no protections against sentences that took too long. In fact, the Court said that the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment would likely apply to such a case, protecting someone who had been convicted from waiting too long for a sentence to be handed down.

The Federal Criminal Law Center

Our attorneys at the Federal Criminal Law Center constantly fight for people who have been accused or convicted for a host of different federal crimes, including wire fraud or cyber crimes. If you are facing federal charges or want an attorney to continue representing you and fighting for your interests after a conviction, contact the Federal Criminal Law Center today.