The Sixth Amendment
The Sixth Amendment
The first ten amendments of the American constitution are generally referred to as the Bill of Rights (McWhirter, 2014). They state the rights of every individual, be they inherent or granted by the State. In summary, the ten amendments regard the freedom to air opinions without fear, freedom of worship and that of the press; the freedom to own firearms; the right of search; the guidelines on prosecution; the right to speedy trial presided over by a jury; right against excessive bail and cruel punishment; and the rights of the state (Hudson, 2002). The Sixth Amendment elaborates on the rights of an arrested individual awaiting trial. It states, thus: the accused individual has the right to a trial that is conveniently fast and open to the public, the right to know the charges leveled against them, the right to use any witness in the defense of their case as well as the right to an attorney. The aim of this paper is to examine the Sixth Amendment in detail in reference to its historical context and relevance. It shall also examine its significance in the Bill of Rights and the whole American constitution.
The first part of the Amendment states that an accused person has the right to a trial that is fast and open to the public. To maintain the innocence of the accused (since they have not been proven guilty yet) the courts cannot hold them in custody for an unrealistically long period (Shea, 2011). Waiting for five years for a trial, for instance, would be an infringement on the accused person’s rights. Nonetheless, this does not imply that the courts hurry the judicial process to its own inconvenience. The time should be reasonable enough to both the courts and the accused person (Shea, 2011). Furthermore, the entire process must be public. The courts cannot prosecute in a private space, like, say, a person’s house. Should members of the public feel the need to be privy of the judicial proceedings, the courts should ensure this is necessary. The importance of this is that the accused feels a greater sense of fairness.
The second part of the Sixth Amendment states that the case involving the accused person should be presided over by an impartial state jury (Shea, 2011). Moreover, it must be within the district where the accused is thought to have committed the crime. The law must approve that the location of the case is in fact within the jurisdiction of the presiding court. In order to offer a fair judgment to the accused, the jury must not harbor any prejudice with respect to the crime committed as well as against the accused. Doing so would be infringing upon the accused person’s rights.
Moreover, the Amendment bars the courts from changing the location from the scene where the crime was committed (Stair, 2003). For instance, it would be unfair to a street dweller, for his prosecution to be held in an upscale neighborhood. The perception of the homeless person already reflects that of someone who does not fit the description of a regular resident of that area, thereby denting the person’s chances of a fair trial. This is because the image of an outsider who is doing less well when compared to the larger majority of the residents there will naturally look like a criminal. Consequently, the judgment of the jury may be skewed against him. It is worth noting, nevertheless, that the courts may reconsider this second part of the Amendment if, according to their discretion, the image of the accused has been tainted by local media, which will have an indirect impact on the case. If this happens, then the case can be moved to a different location (Shea, 2011).
The Sixth Amendment also states that the accused person has the right of access to information on the accusation characteristics and grounds; and the right to question the accusers appropriately to the benefit of their case. The accused person must be told who the accusers are, and ask them any questions relevant to the person’s case (Hudson, 2002). In effect, therefore, the accused person may work for his own acquittal. Additionally, the accused person has the right to access witnesses to defend his case. If the accused person feels that a particular person can help them in their defense, then the courts should prompt the said person to attend the court proceedings by issuing them with a court summons or subpoena (Shea, 2011). The importance of this provision is that it prevents the accusers from getting their own witnesses only, which would skew the case in the accuser’s favor. Additionally, the courts must get an attorney for the accused, should they declare their inability to afford one.
In conclusion, The Sixth Amendment protects the rights of the defendant in a case. If a person is suspected to have committed a crime, then there should be adequate information provided to them with regard to the nature of their crime. Additionally, their trial should be relatively speedy and in front of an impartial jury. Moreover the accused has the right to call on any witnesses that they can use to the benefit of their case; in addition to the right to an attorney, irrespective of whether they can afford one or not.
Hudson, D. L. (2002). The bill of rights: The first ten amendments of the constitution. Berkeley Heights: Enslow Publishers.
McWhirter, R. J. (2014). Bills, quills, and stills: An annotated, illustrated, and illuminated history of the bill of rights. New York: Routledge.
Shea, T. (2011). The Sixth Amendment: The rights of the accused in criminal cases. New York: Rosen Central.
Stair, N. L. (2003). The bill of rights: A primary source investigation into the first ten amendments of the constitution. New York: Rosen Primary Source.