Speedy Trial as a Viable Challenge to Chronic Underfunding in Indigent-Defense Systems

Across the country, underresourced indigent-defense systems create delays in taking cases to trial at both the state and federal levels. Attempts to increase funding for indigent defense by bringing ineffective assistance of counsel claims have been thwarted by high procedural and substantive hurdles, and consequently these attempts have failed to bring significant change. This Note argues that, because ineffective assistance of counsel litigation is most likely a dead end for system-wide reform, indigent defenders should challenge the constitutionality of underfunding based on the Sixth Amendment guarantee of speedy trial. Existing speedy trial jurisprudence suggests that the overworking and furloughing of indigent defense attorneys that delay bringing cases to trial should be counted against the government when determining a speedy trial violation. And in light of the standards for bringing a speedy trial claim, asserting a violation of speedy trial may actually place a lower burden on the defendant than making an ineffective assistance claim. Finally, this Note contends that, in systems with the most egregious delays, defender organizations should seek structural injunctions mandating increased resource allocation to protect the right to speedy trial.