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.

Street Cameras and License Plate Scanners – Is Public Surveillance an Invasion of Privacy?

When driving down the street, any individual with or without a criminal history is being watched through public surveillance technology including street cameras and license plate scanners; a constant and troubling invasion of privacy.

Street cameras

License Plate Scanners

Photo by: Mike_fleming

To temporarily escape the government’s known watchful eye over the internet, many will close down their personal computers and put away their phones only to again be under constant observation the second they step outside their home. Cameras placed on streetlights, ATMS, and the exterior of buildings such as gas stations and grocery stores keeps tabs on anything happening along public streets. Public surveillance is said to be beneficial for crime prevention and investigation purposes, but for the millions of innocent people who pass by these cameras on a daily basis, it can seem like Big Brother is always watching.

License plate scanners

If an individual is able to avoid the abundance of cameras placed throughout U.S. cities, their vehicle is still under surveillance. License plate scanners, otherwise known as automatic number plate recognition technology can be placed in stationary locations throughout town such as on street lights, toll gates, and freeway overpasses or be attached to the bumper or roof of law enforcement vehicles for surveillance in motion. Unlike video surveillance, license plate scanners link a license plate to a person’s personal information. License plate scanners are used by law enforcement to track a person’s whereabouts and determine if that individual is a person of criminal interest. If that individual’s movements deem them worthy of being scrutinized, their name and vehicle information is added to a “hot list”, and the license plate scanners will alert authorities of that individual’s location at any given time.

Problems with public surveillance

Although public surveillance may have started as a way to prevent crime and protect citizens, now it appears to be nothing more than a constant invasion of privacy. Originally, license plate scanners were few and far between, with scanners at certain high profile areas around cities. Now, those scanners can be found everywhere – always watching, always recording. Law abiding citizens who are not committing crimes are still being observed and monitored on a daily basis, with their entire lives on display and recorded to databases! Days, weeks, months, and even years of an individual’s movements are collected regardless of any criminal history. Law enforcement may know more about an individual by their habits and routines that their own family does.

Stalking escalated

Photo by: hunnnterrr

Photo by: hunnnterrr

Public surveillance by law enforcement is disturbing enough already, imagine if that information got into the wrong hands! At what point will this surveillance of the public become available to the public? For a price, people can already research each other online. For $49.99, all “public records” can be compiled and delivered to anyone, complete with a person’s address, phone numbers, email address, and even any photographs posted online. Imagine if the information obtained through cameras and license place scanners likewise became available to everyone as public record. Public surveillance through cameras and license plate scanners could show that someone picks their young child up from school at 3:00pm daily; grocery shops on Wednesdays mornings; and leaves their children at the sitter while they attend a pottery class at the college on Friday evening. Not only would privacy be moot, this could open doors for an abundance of alarming situations.

Keep public privacy intact

No one should have their personal lives tracked, not even by the police. If a person has committed a heinous crime, then the description of their vehicle along with the license plate number should be given to authorities to be used as needed. For all law abiding citizens, and even those with forgotten parking tickets, they should have the right to privacy until law enforcement is given a reason to investigate them.

Law Enforcement Use of GPS Tracking Devices

Law enforcement officers have different measures to obtain information about a potential suspect including the use of “slap-on” GPS tracking devices attached to vehicles. Without a warrant however, this practice may constitute a violation of the suspect’s Fourth Amendment rights regarding unreasonable searches.

GPS tracking devices

Photo by: Surrey County Council News

Photo by: Surrey County Council News

The “slap-on” GPS tracking devices are mechanisms that can be placed inconspicuously on the undercarriage of a vehicle allowing police the ability to track the movement and location of said vehicle. These tracking tools allow law enforcement to keep tabs on potential suspects over an extended period of time and can be used to learn the whereabouts of illegal activity.

Protection from unreasonable searches

For several years, “slap-on” GPS tracking devices were under debate, with many claiming they violated a person’s Fourth Amendment rights regarding unreasonable searches. The Fourth Amendment states “The right of the people to be secure ( . . . ) against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause ( . . . ). In October of 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals agreed that GPS tracking devices constituted a “search” and law enforcement must obtain a warrant based on probable cause before placing such devices on a vehicle.

Ankle monitors

Photo by: Washington State House Republican

Photo by: Washington State House Republican

While tracking devices on vehicles were deemed unconstitutional without a warrant, the question was raised whether or not SBM monitors, commonly referred to as ankle monitors should fall under the same scrutiny (Grady v. North Carolina). Each state has their own specific uses for electronic tracking in the form of ankle monitors. Some states use these devices to forever track the whereabouts of convicted sex offenders after they have finished their sentencing. Other states such as Utah permit law enforcement to use ankle monitors on individuals placed on probation. (Utah Code 77-18-1.16)

Grey area

As law enforcement’s use of electronic searches is being evaluated, it is wise to consult with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney to ensure that your rights are not being violated by the use of tracking devices or other means of technological trespass.