Klopfer v. North Carolina, 386 U.S. 213 (1967)

2012-07-20 10:35:04

More than a year after an individual’s state court trial ended in a mistrial because of the jury’s inability to reach a verdict, the prosecutor asked the court to permit him to take a ‘‘nolle prosequi with leave,’’ a procedural device that discharged the accused from custody but did not permanently terminate the proceedings against him. Even though the prosecutor did not offer any justification for his request, the trial court, over the accused’s objection, granted the request, thereby allowing the prosecutor to reinstate proceedings at a future date.

In Klopfer v. North Carolina, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates the Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial (which itself applies only to federal prosecutions) and makes that provision applicable to the States. It also held that the procedural device in question denied the accused his federally guaranteed right to a speedy trial. The Court noted that the right to a speedy trial ‘‘has its roots at the very foundation of our English law heritage,’’ and it traced the history of the right from the twelfth century into the jurisprudence of this country, pointing out that every State guarantees it citizens the right to a speedy trial. The Court concluded that the right to a speedy trial is ‘‘fundamental’’ and ‘‘one of the most basic rights preserved by our Constitution,’’ and it pronounced that it is to be enforced in state prosecutions according to the same standards as in federal prosecutions.


References and Further Reading

  • LaFave, Wayne R., Jerold H. Israel, and Nancy J. King. Criminal Procedure. 4th Ed. St. Paul, MN: Thompson- West, 2004, pp. 858–859, 864.
  • Recent Decision, Brooklyn Law Review 34 (1968): 2:316-328.

See also Fourteenth Amendment; Incorporation Doctrine; Speedy Trial