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Focus on a key constitutional protection: right to a speedy trial

For obvious reasons, all criminal law cases are deeply important to the individuals involved, regardless of whether they are alleged victims or accused offenders. A matter that plays out before a judge or jury is, in legions of cases that occur in California and across the country every day, acutely personal and with attendant consequences that affect lives in fundamental ways.

In tandem with that obvious truism, though, there is also often this: A criminal law matter is in many instances of tremendous importance in an abstract way. That is, its resolution has real consequences in the future for the general public, with central principles involved in the case being inextricably intertwined with the outcome pronounced that more narrowly affects individual fates.

As such, court developments or judicial rulings that serve as a guideline or standard for larger society often ultimately define select cases as much as does the outcome that affects case principals.

Consider this news from a recent recounting of a criminal matter, for example: A man charged with capital murder a decade ago is still waiting to go to trial.

That is flatly newsworthy, and additionally alarming to many people who are duly concerned with systemic fairness and legal protections. Of course, it is important what ultimately happens to that individual, with case closure also being key for family members of a man who died back in 2007 during an ill-fated drug altercation.

What is a key consideration in news reporting surrounding the story, though, is the debate engendered by the sheer passage of time that has transpired in a case that never seems to move forward. Many people are duly concerned with what seems a clear display of system dysfunction and the seemingly perpetual open-ended nature of the matter, which has suffered delay for myriad complex reasons.

And that is compounded by this: an express dictate in the U.S. Constitution that guarantees every American accused of a crime the right to a speedy trial.

Although "speedy" is a variable term, of course, with some so-called wiggle room in its application, few people who reflect on fairness and rationality in the criminal law sphere would ever reasonably argue that a 10-year wait for justice is anything less than frightening or less than patently unfair to both a criminal suspect or alleged victims of his or her criminal act.

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