Highlight the Right: Timely Disposition
The right to timely disposition of the case and proceedings free from unreasonable delay
“Justice delayed, is justice denied” – a legal maxim older than our nation and the defining principle behind a defendant’s 6th Amendment right to a speedy trial.[i] The interests of swift justice, though, are not solely limited to the defendant. As the Supreme Court has noted, the public has some interest in proceedings that continue without untimely delay[ii] and for the victim long, drawn-out delays in the criminal justice process can cause serious mental health and financial ramifications.[iii] Marsy’s Law for Iowa includes the right to timely disposition of the case and proceedings free from unreasonable delay which will provide the victim with a meaningful right to object to unreasonable delays and trial continuances.
When the Crime Victims’ Rights Act (CVRA), was being passed federally, Senator Jon Kyl (Arizona), co-sponsor of the legislation noted “[D]elays in criminal proceedings are among the most chronic problems faced by victims. Whatever peace of mind a victim might achieve after a crime is too often inexcusably postponed by unreasonable delays in the criminal case.”[iv] Along with the federal government, a number of other states have adopted constitutional legislation[v] that provides victims with the right to timely disposition of a case and/or proceedings free from unreasonable delay, and even more have adopted that right statutorily.[vi] Iowa is in the minority of states that does not provide victims with the basic rights to meaningful consideration within the criminal justice system.
Long delays in justice can be especially harmful for victims of crime and cause re-traumatization. In fact, multiple studies suggest a correlation between psychological stress for a victim and long delays in the criminal justice system.[vii] Providing victims with a meaningful right to timely disposition of a case gives the victim a constitutional avenue to oppose unreasonable requests for continuance, should the victim choose to exercise their right.
Opponents of victims’ rights in Iowa will cite the defendant’s right to due process and need for time to prepare a defense as the reasons victims should not be afforded a right to timely disposition, however, this is an erroneous assumption. The victim does not get sole discretion in deciding the schedule of case proceedings. However, should a victim object to a delay, the court must consider whether a delay is really necessary and explain to a victim why this might be the case. Any request for a delay allows the court to examine the progression of a case, keeping the participants accountable and on track. The court remains the arbiter of what is reasonable for the case at bar by weighing the interests of all parties and participants. There is no risk to undermining the defendant’s right to due process by providing victims with this right. As the Supreme Court has already noted, “[b]oth the State and the victims of crime have an important interest in the timely enforcement of a sentence.”[viii] Victims deserve to be included in the scheduling of proceedings meant to prosecute the violence that was perpetrated against them. Their interest in justice is likely greater than the public and deserves equal consideration in the criminal justice system.
[i] U.S. Const. amend. VI (“in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial”) .
[ii] Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514, 519 (1972).
[iii] See Paul G. Cassell & Margaret Garvin, Protecting Crime Victims in State Constitutions: The Example of the New Marsy’s Law for Florida, 110 J. Crim. L. & Criminology, 121 (2020) (discussing the effects of untimely delays in the criminal justice system on victims).
[iv] 150 Cong. Rec. S10910 (daily ed. Oct. 9, 2004) (statement by Sen. Kyl).
[v] Ariz. Const. art. 2, § 2.1(A)(10); Cal. Const. art. 1, § 28(b)(9); Conn. Const. art. 1, § 8(b)(2); Fl. Const. art. I, § 16(b)(10); Idaho Const. art. 1, § 22(2); Ill. Const, art. 1, § 8.1(a)(7); La. Const. art. I, § 25; Mich. Const. art. I, § 24(1); Mo. Const. art. I, § 32(1)(5); Nev. Const. art. I, § 23(1)(i); N.M. Const. art., II, § 24(A)(2); N.D. Const. art. I, § 25(1)(o); Ohio Const. art. I, § 10a(A)(8); Okla. Const. art. II, § 34(A); S.C. Const. art. I, § 24(A)(11); S.D. Const. art. 6, § 29(15); Tenn. Const. art. I, § 35(6); Wis. Const. art. I, § 9m(2)(d).
[vi] See e.g. Utah Code Ann. § 77-38-7 (speedy resolution of the charges).
[vii] See Supra note iii; See also Mary Beth Ricke, Victims’ Right to a Speedy Trial” Shortcomings, Improvements, and Alternatives to Legislative Protection, 41 Wash. U.J.L. & Pol’y 181, 193 (2013); See Ulrich Orth & Andreas Maercker, Do Trials of Perpetrators Retraumatize Victims? 19 J. Interpersonal Violence 212, 215 (2004)
[viii] Hill v. McDonough, 547 U.S. 573, 585 (2006).