The Sixth Amendment entitles defendants to specific rights regarding criminal proceedings which they should be privy to prior to their court hearings.
Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution is a segment of the Bill of Rights which was presented into the Constitution in 1789 and reads: “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.” The Sixth Amendment gives protection to defendants during criminal proceedings and should be understood completely to ensure the rights of the accused are not being violated.
Speedy and public trial
• Speedy. Criminal proceedings can often take days and even weeks to conclude; however defendants should not spend an excess amount of time incarcerated prior to these proceedings, especially if they have not been released on bail. This also makes sure the availability of any witnesses for the defense or prosecution.
• Public. Defendants have the right to a public trial; No criminal proceedings should be done in secret. This not only protects the defendant from hidden corruption within the system, it allows the public including family and friends of the defendant to observe the trial and observe that it is carried out justly. This likewise permits the media to be present and report on the case as it transpires. The defendant may waive this right if desired or access to the proceedings may be limited by the courts to guard a defendant’s right to a fair trial or to protect a witness from coercion.
All defendants have the right to an impartial jury. This is ensured through the jury selection process. Jury selection is first done randomly from a pool of registered voters in the area. After the original jury pool, the defense and prosecution are able to question possible jury members at which point they have the opportunity to object to any person they feel would not be able to be impartial to the case. Some scenarios in which a jury member would be challenged are: when they have a personal relationship or association with the accused; if they have biases or preconceptions for or against the defendant; if their opinion on the type of crime in question is unwavering; or just for the reason that either the prosecution or defense chooses not to have them on the jury.
Informed on charges
This may seem obvious, but the Sixth Amendments protects the rights of defendants to be informed on the charges that they are facing and “the nature and cause of the accusation”. If a defendant is unaware as to why they were arrested or facing trial, they would be less likely to prepare adequately for their defense.
The confrontation clause protects the defendant’s right to confront those accusing them of a crime. This allows the accused the opportunity to face and cross examine the witnesses who are making allegations, giving the defendant ample opportunity to debate the accusations against them. The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution gave even further rights to the defendant by ensuring that the confrontation clause would be applicable in federal AND state courts. There are some instances when confrontation is not permitted, such as when the witness is a child and their testimony is not recorded in court, but done prior to the proceedings.
Defense counsel and witnesses
The final rights stated in the Sixth Amendment ensure that the accused has the right to obtain witnesses who are “in his favor” as well as an attorney to defend him/her. The compulsory process clause allows the accused the right to have witnesses speak on their behalf to aid in attesting to their innocence or poke holes in the case. These defense witnesses may even be issued a subpoena, ordering them to appear in court. Regarding defense counsel, if the accused is in good mental health they may waive their right to counsel if they choose. All defendants however are allowed to seek a reliable defense attorney of their choosing or have an attorney appointed to them by the court. It is recommended for anyone facing charges to always seek out an experienced criminal defense attorney to guarantee that no constitutional rights are violated and that all the protections of the law are provided.