Barker v. Wingo Case Brief

Why is the case important?

Petitioner brought this action to have his conviction overturned when, after sixteen (16) continuances, over a five year period, he was finally tried and convicted for murder.

Facts of the case

“On July 20, 1958, intruders beat an elderly couple to death in Christian County, Kentucky. Shortly afterward, police arrested Silas Manning and Willie Barker for the crime. Both were indicted on September 15 and assigned counsel on September 17. Barker’s trial was scheduled to begin on September 21, but the state believed it had a stronger case against Manning and that Manning’s testimony would be essential to convict Barker. The state obtained a series of continuances on Barker’s trial, as Manning was tried five times and finally convicted in 1962. Beginning in June 1959, Barker was out of prison on bail, and did not contest the continuances. Barker’s trial was set for March 19, 1963, and when the state requested further continuances, Barker unsuccessfully objected. At his trial beginning on October 9, 1963, Barker was convicted.The Kentucky Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction. Barker sought habeas corpus relief in district court, by arguing that the long trial delay violated his right to a speedy trial, which the district court denied. The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court.”


Whether a defendant must invoke the right to a speedy trial.


In its opinion, the Court used a four-factor balancing test to determine if the right to a speedy trial had been denied:
The Length of the Delay: the court concedes that five years a great time for delay


The Supreme Court of the United States affirmed the appellate court’s judgment. The rule that the Court adopted and used as a factor in determining whether the speedy trial right had been denied was whether or not he had asserted his right. However, a waiver of that right could not be presumed, except as to delay caused by Barker himself. The conduct of both the prosecution and Barker were to be balanced, taking into account Barker’s assertion of the right, prejudice to Barker, the length of delay, and the reasons for the delay. Given the minimal prejudice and the fact that Barker had not wanted a speedy trial, Barker’s rights had not been violated.

  • Case Brief: 1972
  • Petitioner: Willie Mae Barker
  • Respondent: John W. Wingo, Warden
  • Decided by: Burger Court

Citation: 407 US 514 (1972)
Argued: Apr 11, 1972
Decided: Jun 22, 1972
Granted Jan 17, 1972