Sixth Amendment Rights Regarding Criminal Proceedings

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

Sixth Amendment

Photo by: Phil Roeder

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.

Impartial jury

Photo by: J

Photo by: J

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.

Confrontation clause

Photo by: Khmer Rouge Tribunal (ECCC)

Photo by: Khmer Rouge Tribunal (ECCC)

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.

Will a “No Trespassing” Sign Protect a Roommate from a Search Warrant?

When someone living in a shared home is served with a search warrant for their residence, another roommate may have their private room explored as well, even if a “No Trespassing” sign is posted.

State v. Boyles

Search Warrant

Photo by: Fort George G. Meade Public Affairs Office

When law enforcement officials began a search on the home of James Fitts who they had under investigation, they were unaware that a locked room with a “No Trespassing” sign belonged to another roommate, Evan D. Boyles. After forcing their way into the locked private room, they discovered drug paraphernalia and arrested Boyles after he stated the room was his. Boyles attempted to have the evidence suppressed in court since Fitts was the target of the search warrant, however that motion was denied.

Vague search warrant

Photo by:  Nicolas Raymond

Photo by: Nicolas Raymond

Although officers may have known which bedroom belonged to Fitts, they claimed to be unaware that the “No Trespassing” sign meant a private room. Typically, a search warrant will specify which areas of a residence can be searched and what items are being located however the search warrant obtained for Fitts’ residence allowed officers to search every inch of that property. It stated “all outbuildings, garages, sheds, vehicles, trailers, boats, locked containers, and other property contained within the property lines (. . . )” could be searched.

Protection for roommates

Photo by: Jason Taellious

Photo by: Jason Taellious

Sharing a residence with others definitely has its ups and downs. While the cost of living may be decreased with more individuals splitting the bills, there is a diminished sense of privacy that comes with the territory. Just as labeling food in a fridge is common practice among roommates, clearly labeling private bedrooms can also be helpful in the unfortunate event that a search warrant is placed on the home. Had Boyles’ room stated that it was the “private room of Evan Boyles” instead of simply “No Trespassing” officers would have to be aware it was a separate residence. A more specific sign could have made the difference in whether or not Boyles’ charges were dropped. For more information on Fourth Amendment Rights regarding search and seizures, contact a criminal defense attorney.

West Valley City Police Department Sued for Racial Profiling

The West Valley City Police Department was sued in early December for racial profiling after questioning non-white high schoolers about gang ties and affiliations.

Being picked first isn’t always a good thing

Photo by: Michael Fleshman

Photo by: Michael Fleshman

Officers from the West Valley Police Department conducted a gang sweep at West High School back in December 2010, using racial profiling to select certain high schoolers and interrogate them about gang associations. The reason for the questioning was not because they were suspects in a crime but merely to have their information on record for possible future reference. This fact alone was disturbing to the parents of the teens, until the heartbreaking realization set in when they realized that only the kids of color or minorities were the ones interrogated.

Focusing on minorities

According to the United States Census Bureau, Utah as a whole has a high percentage of white or Caucasian residents. Over 91% of Utahans are white compared to over 77% annually. West Valley City’s white majority is lower but still rules at around 65%. With 65% or nearly two-thirds of the population of West Valley City being white, the racial profiling that took place at West High appeared to be deliberate. If the questioning had been random, the odds of only questioning the kids of color or minorities would have been unlikely.

Gang database

Not only were the targeted kids wanted for questioning, their information along with a picture similar to a mug shot were taken and recorded into the national gang database. Regardless of whether or not these kids choose a better life than their “affiliations”, their information and photo available to police will forever remain tied to gangs. A few years after this unfortunate incident at the high school, the West Valley City Police Department settled a $50,000 lawsuit brought upon them by three of the racial profiling victims who were supported by their parents and the ACLU of Utah. Although the amount is welcomed by the three former students, their trust in law enforcement following their experience may be jaded indefinitely.

Racial profiling

Unlike criminal profiling in which police use behavior and other like information to predict criminal activity, racial profiling can be based on nothing more than the color of one’s skin. The National Institute of Justice states: “Racial profiling by law enforcement is commonly defined as a practice that targets people for suspicion of crime based on their race, ethnicity, religion or national origin. Creating a profile about the kinds of people who commit certain types of crimes may lead officers to generalize about a particular group and act according to the generalization rather than specific behavior.” All citizens have the right to be treated equally by police officers unless there is a reason to suspect that a crime has been or is about to be committed. Being a young African-American male in an all-white community or a dark-skinned woman boarding a plane wearing a hijab should not be a reason for law enforcement to make presumptions of hostile intent.

“Driving while black or brown”

While there are cases of racial profiling that are obvious issues being how no crime was committed, there are times racial profiling is hidden behind a legitimate crime or infraction. According to the ACLU: “On our nation’s highways today, police ostensibly looking for drug criminals routinely stop drivers based on the color of their skin. This practice is so common that the minority community has given it the derisive term, “driving while black or brown” – a play on the real offense of “driving while intoxicated.” Although these drivers may be stopped for valid reasons such as going five miles over the speed limit or a broken taillight, many of them believe they were only stopped mainly due to the color of their skin. Anyone facing charges in which they believe racial profiling played a role are encouraged to speak with a criminal defense attorney and the local ACLU regarding their constitutional rights.