• Exploring American History

6th Amendment – Right to a Fair Trial

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 defense.


When an individual is accused of a crime, the Constitution’s 6th Amendment steps in with a number of protections:


Speedy Trial - though the Constitution does not define the term “speedy” with a specific timeframe, the trial cannot be deliberately delayed while he sits in jail.


Public Trial – this requirement protects the individual from a ‘secret’ trial, conducted “behind closed doors,” away from public eyes. Public trials are designed to ensure the government follows the law.


Impartial Jury – an impartial jury is one with no biases regarding the defendant or the crime he’s accused of having committed. In order to ensure impartiality, lawyers on both sides (prosecution and defense) choose from the jury pool together to determine which 6/12 individuals will occupy the jury box for the trial.


Notice of Accusation – the accused must be made fully aware of the crime he is being charged with having committed. Without this protection, the government would have the ability to lock up an individual without giving him a reason for doing so.


In addition, in order to make things fair to the accused, an individual who claims to have witnessed a wrongdoing must testify about it in court, in front of the accused. This provides the accused or his attorney to question the witness(es).


Assistance of Counsel – the accused has a right to have a defense attorney present in court. If the individual cannot afford an attorney, a public defender is provided by the court. This individual is an attorney paid by the government to act as defense counsel.


Though the 6th Amendment ensures the accused the right to an attorney, the accused is not required to accept that service. He may, if he chooses, act as his own attorney and represent himself. Unless he has a well-grounded understanding of the law, Abraham Lincoln stated, He who represents himself has a fool for a client. At the same time, even if he is a full-fledged attorney, it’s still a good idea for him to enlist the help of another who is not emotionally involved in the situation.


Change of Venue – Sometimes a trial will be moved to a different location in order to provide the defendant a better opportunity for a fair trial – especially if the situation creating the trial has received a lot of publicity in the local media.


Subpoena – Witnesses can be forced to appear in court to testify. The process of bringing in the individual and the document used to do so is known as a 'subpoena'.


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Trial by jury, the best of all safeguards for the person, the property

and the fame of every individual.

Thomas Jefferson

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