Betterman v. Montana: No Speedy Sentencing Guarantee (05/19/16)


Betterman v. Montana

Should the Sixth Amendment’s speedy trial guarantee apply to the sentencing phase of a criminal prosecution and guarantee a speedy sentencing?

See Sixth Amendment for more.

Argued: 03/28/16

Decision Date: 05/19/16

Decision Record: 8-0; no

Justices in Favor: None

Justices Dissenting: John Roberts (RC*), Samuel Alito (R), Anthony Kennedy (LC), Ruth Bader Ginsburg (L), Stephen Breyer (L), Sonia Sotomayor (L), Elena Kagan (LC), Clarence Thomas (R)


Effect of the Decision:

It clarifies the meaning of the Sixth Amendment to only cover the speedy trial, and the beginning of the trial process. It does not extend to the penalty phase.


In Favor:

On the side of Mr. Betterman, attorney Fred A. Rowley Jr. argues, “The Speedy Trial Clause applies to a criminal prosecution through its culmination in sentencing”, arguing the sixth amendment of the constitution guarantees a speedy sentencing.

It is not cut off when the defendant pleads or is found guilty.

The Court has said that the clause guarantees an early and proper disposition of a criminal charge, and that guarantee applies to the guilt stage of a prosecution when most defendants plead guilty and to the sentencing stage, which may be the only place in a criminal prosecution today when a defendant actually mounts a defense.”

He states that the Sixth Amendment includes the right to both a speedy trial and speedy sentencing.


However on the opposing side, Montana, attorney Dale Schowengerdt says, “The Speedy Trial Clause does not include sentencing delay because its purpose is to protect a presumptively innocent defendant from the harms associated with a criminal charge.

That purpose is consistent with the text in history of the clause. It’s consistent with the remedy that this Court has said must apply to speedy trial violations.

And, importantly, it leaves defendants with other means of challenging unjustified sentencing delay without requiring the court having to modify both the test and the remedy for a speedy trial violation. The Speedy Trial Clause is unique among Sixth Amendment rights because it goes to the heart of the government’s authority to try a presumptively innocent defendant at all.

If the government unjustifiably delays, it may forfeit the right, which is why dismissal is the remedy. Sentencing delay doesn’t impact the validity of trial.”



In the opinion slip on the affirming side, written by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, she wrote, “This understanding of the Sixth Amendment language—“accused” as distinct from “convicted,” and “trial” as separate from “sentencing”—endures today. . . The course of a criminal prosecution is composed of discrete segments. During the segment between accusation and conviction, the Sixth Amendment’s Speedy Trial Clause protects the presumptively innocent from long enduring unresolved criminal charges. The Sixth Amendment speedy trial right, however, does not extend beyond conviction, which terminates the presumption of innocence. The judgment of the Supreme Court of Montana is therefore affirmed” with no right to a speedy sentencing.

My Opinion:

In this case, I agree with the majority side of the opinion. I disagree with the argument that was brought up by attorney Rowley: “The Speedy Trial Clause applies to a criminal prosecution through its culmination in sentencing,” because a trial is what determines whether you’re guilty or not, whereas a sentencing is what decides how long you will stay in jail, after you have been found guilty.

In Betterman’s case, he had already plead guilty, and then after waiting 14 months in jail for a sentencing, he claimed that it was a violation of his Sixth Amendment, which guaranteed a speedy trial and speedy sentencing. Betterman had already completed his trial, and was found guilty, so his Sixth Amendment rights were not infringed.

*Justice Leaning L=Left, LC=Left of Center, C=Center, RC=Right of Center, R=Right

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