The Law: By the Sea of Confusion

Though the Sixth Amendment guarantees a "speedy and public trial" in criminal cases, the U.S. Supreme Court has never specified just how fast authorities must act. Lengthening criminal court dockets and ever more crowded jails have prompted a few state courts to impose deadlines after which charges against an untried defendant must be dropped. Last winter the Florida Supreme Court handed down its own time standards, but the initial result was what Dade County Criminal Court Judge Paul Baker called a "sea of confusion."

The controversy began in January when a teen-ager accused of car theft was murdered in a crowded Miami...

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