The Sixth Amendment and Its Protections

The Sixth Amendment and Its Protections

( – The Sixth Amendment in the Bill of Rights protects citizens and allows them to experience a fair trial. Over the years, exactly how that happens has been refined to fit the current legal model and proceedings.

“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.”

Speedy and Public

In the past, public trials were sometimes entertainment for the people. Before lawyers commonly represented defendants. people represented themselves. As a result, there was a lot of chaos involved as those involved yelled back and forth and the crowd responded in kind. Today, judges don’t always allow for a public trial because they wish to avoid a spectacle. Sometimes making a trial public also turns it into a circus. Technology now allows public trials via live-streaming. This reduces potential chaos by distancing crowds but allows citizens to monitor events.

The portion of this amendment which concerns speed is dependent on court calendars. To be as speedy as possible, the courts tend to work on a first-come, first-serve basis. Even so, the justice system requires efforts and procedures that may be time-consuming and cause delays in case resolutions.

Jury Trials

The Sixth Amendment guarantees the accused a right to a jury trial. But if every case went through a jury trial, the courts would overflow worse than they do now. For that reason, the accused may face a judge or magistrate instead of a jury if they face less than a potential six-month sentence.

Accusation, Representation, and Witness

This amendment affords the accused the right to know the exact accusation, confront the witnesses, obtain their own witnesses through a compulsory process, and have a lawyer to represent them.

While the accused may testify for themselves, they cannot be forced to testify against themselves, because of the Fifth Amendment. Those who testify against the accused must do so in a court of law unless it would be too traumatic for a member of a vulnerable population such as children.

One problem that crept in and influenced justice outcomes indirectly in multiple ways throughout time was money. Being allowed to have an attorney present is not the same at all as being able to afford to have an attorney. In 1963, Gideon vs. Wainwright established that those who cannot afford an attorney must be appointed one at the expense of the public. This precedent established the position of public defender. It also made clear that such attorneys were to be effective in their practices. The accused should not face bias, even indirectly, based on their financial status.

The American justice system is far from perfect, but the Sixth Amendment and Supreme Court legal interpretations afford Americans more rights than are experienced in many other countries. The system also allows for adjustment of those laws so they can be fine-tuned as time and circumstances require to improve justice for all.

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