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Name: Betterman v. Montana
Case #: 14-1457
Court: US Supreme Court
District USSup
Opinion Date: 05/19/2016

Speedy trial right does not apply to postconviction, presentence delay. Betterman pleaded guilty to bail jumping. After his plea, he was jailed for over 14 months awaiting sentencing. Betterman appealed, arguing that the 14-month gap between conviction and sentencing violated his speedy trial right. The Montana Supreme Court affirmed, ruling that the Sixth Amendment’s speedy trial clause did not apply to postconviction, presentence delay. The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari to resolve a split of authority on this issue. Held: Affirmed. The speedy trial guarantee flows from the presumption of innocence “prevent[ing] undue and oppressive incarceration prior to trial . . . minimiz[ing] anxiety and concern accompanying public accusation[,] and . . . limit[ing] the possibilities that long delay will impair the ability of an accused to defend himself.” (United States v. Marion (1971) 404 U.S. 307, 320-321.) Thus, speedy trial rights, like the right to bail and standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, lose force upon conviction. This conclusion is supported by both the text and history of the speedy trial clause. Furthermore, the sole remedy for a speedy trial right violation is dismissal of the charges and “[i]t would be an unjustified windfall, in most cases, to remedy sentencing delay by vacating validly obtained convictions.” However, this conclusion does not deprive defendants of all protection against undue delay as both state and federal statutory law impose time constraints. The Court noted that due process does provide a “backstop against exorbitant delay” but declined to articulate a specific standard because Betterman forfeited a due process challenge by failing to assert it. The Court did note that a due process violation for excessive postconviction presentencing delay may turn on factors like “the length of and reasons for delay, the defendant’s diligence in requesting expeditious sentencing, and prejudice.”

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: