Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution
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Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution


Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution
The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution is a part of the United States Bill of Rights
that sets forth rights related to criminal prosecutions. The Supreme Court has applied the protections
of this amendment to the states through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Rights secured
Speedy trial Criminal defendants have the right to a speedy
trial. In Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514 (1972), the
Supreme Court laid down a four-part case-by-case balancing test for determining whether the
defendant’s speedy trial right has been violated. The four factors are:
Length of delay. A delay of a year or more from the date on
which the speedy trial right “attaches” (the date of arrest or indictment, whichever first
occurs) was termed “presumptively prejudicial,” but the Court has never explicitly ruled that
any absolute time limit applies. Reason for the delay. The prosecution may not excessively delay
the trial for its own advantage, but a trial may be delayed to secure the presence of an
absent witness or other practical considerations (e.g., change of venue). Time and manner in which the defendant has
asserted his right. If a defendant agrees to the delay when it
works to his own benefit, he cannot later claim that he has been unduly delayed. Degree of prejudice to the defendant which
the delay has caused. In Strunk v. United States, 412 U.S. 434 (1973),
the Supreme Court ruled that if the reviewing court finds that a defendant’s right to a
speedy trial was violated, then the indictment must be dismissed and/or the conviction overturned. The Court held that, since the delayed trial
is the state action which violates the defendant’s rights, no other remedy would be appropriate. Thus, a reversal or dismissal of a criminal
case on speedy trial grounds means that no further prosecution for the alleged offense
can take place. Public trial
In Sheppard v. Maxwell, 384 U.S. 333 (1966), the Supreme Court ruled that the right to
a public trial is not absolute. In cases where excess publicity would serve
to undermine the defendant’s right to due process, limitations can be put on public
access to the proceedings. According to Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior
Court, 478 U.S. 1 (1986), trials can be closed at the behest of the government if there is
“an overriding interest based on findings that closure is essential to preserve higher
values and is narrowly tailored to serve that interest.” The accused may also request a closure of
the trial; though, it must be demonstrated that “first, there is a substantial probability
that the defendant’s right to a fair trial will be prejudiced by publicity that closure
would prevent, and second, reasonable alternatives to closure cannot adequately protect the defendant’s
right to a fair trial.” Impartial jury
The right to a jury has always depended on the nature of the offense with which the defendant
is charged. Petty offenses—those punishable by imprisonment
for no more than six months—are not covered by the jury requirement. Even where multiple petty offenses are concerned,
the total time of imprisonment possibly exceeding six months, the right to a jury trial does
not exist. Also, in the United States, except for serious
offenses (such as murder), minors are usually tried in a juvenile court, which lessens the
sentence allowed, but forfeits the right to a jury. Originally, the Supreme Court held that the
Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial indicated a right to “a trial by jury as understood
and applied at common law, and includes all the essential elements as they were recognized
in this country and England when the Constitution was adopted.” Therefore, it was held that juries had to
be composed of twelve persons and that verdicts had to be unanimous, as was customary in England. When, under the Fourteenth Amendment, the
Supreme Court extended the right to a trial by jury to defendants in state courts, it
re-examined some of the standards. It has been held that twelve came to be the
number of jurors by “historical accident,” and that a jury of six would be sufficient
but anything less would deprive the defendant of a right to trial by jury. Although on the basis of history and precedent
the Sixth Amendment mandates unanimity in a federal jury trial, the Supreme Court has
ruled that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, while requiring states to provide
jury trials for serious crimes, does not incorporate all the elements of a jury trial within the
meaning of the Sixth Amendment and does not require jury unanimity. Impartiality
The Sixth Amendment requires juries to be impartial. Impartiality has been interpreted as requiring
individual jurors to be unbiased. At voir dire, each side may question potential
jurors to determine any bias, and challenge them if the same is found; the court determines
the validity of these challenges for cause. Defendants may not challenge a conviction
because a challenge for cause was denied incorrectly if they had the opportunity to use peremptory
challenges. Venire of juries
Another factor in determining the impartiality of the jury is the nature of the panel, or
venire, from which the jurors are selected. Venires must represent a fair cross-section
of the community; the defendant may establish that the requirement was violated by showing
that the allegedly excluded group is a “distinctive” one in the community, that the representation
of such a group in venires is unreasonable and unfair in regard to the number of persons
belonging to such a group, and that the under-representation is caused by a systematic exclusion in the
selection process. Thus, in Taylor v. Louisiana, 419 U.S. 522
(1975), the Supreme Court invalidated a state law that exempted women who had not made a
declaration of willingness to serve from jury service, while not doing the same for men. Sentencing
In Apprendi v. New Jersey, and Blakely v. Washington, the Supreme Court ruled that a
criminal defendant has a right to a jury trial not only on the question of guilt or innocence,
but also regarding any fact used to increase the defendant’s sentence beyond the maximum
otherwise allowed by statutes or sentencing guidelines. In Alleyne v. United States, the Court expanded
on Apprendi and Blakely by ruling that a defendant’s right to a jury applies to any fact that would
increase a defendant’s sentence beyond the minimum otherwise required by statute. Vicinage
Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution requires defendants be tried by juries and
in the state in which the crime was committed. The Sixth Amendment requires the jury to be
selected from a judicial districts ascertained by statute. In Beavers v. Henkel, 194 U.S. 73 (1904),
the Supreme Court ruled that the place where the offense is charged to have occurred determines
a trial’s location. Where multiple districts are alleged to have
been locations of the crime, any of them may be chosen for the trial. In cases of offenses not committed in any
state (for example, offenses committed at sea), the place of trial may be determined
by the Congress. Notice of accusation
A criminal defendant has the right to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation
against him. Therefore, an indictment must allege all the
ingredients of the crime to such a degree of precision that it would allow the accused
to assert double jeopardy if the same charges are brought up in subsequent prosecution. The Supreme Court held in United States v.
Carll, 105 U.S. 611 (1881) that “in an indictment… it is not sufficient to set forth the offense
in the words of the statute, unless those words of themselves fully, directly, and expressly,
without any uncertainty or ambiguity, set forth all the elements necessary to constitute
the offense intended to be punished.” Vague wording, even if taken directly from
a statute, does not suffice. However, the government is not required to
hand over written copies of the indictment free of charge. Confrontation
The Confrontation Clause relates to the common law rule preventing the admission of hearsay,
that is to say, testimony by one witness as to the statements and observations of another
person to prove that the statement or observation was accurate. The rationale was that the defendant had no
opportunity to challenge the credibility of and cross-examine the person making the statements. Certain exceptions to the hearsay rule have
been permitted; for instance, admissions by the defendant are admissible, as are dying
declarations. Nevertheless, in California v. Green, 399
U.S. 149 (1970), the Supreme Court has held that the hearsay rule is not the same as the
Confrontation Clause. Hearsay is admissible under certain circumstances. For example, in Bruton v. United States, 391
U.S. 123 (1968), the Supreme Court ruled that while a defendant’s out of court statements
were admissible in proving the defendant’s guilt, they were inadmissible hearsay against
another defendant. Hearsay may, in some circumstances, be admitted
though it is not covered by one of the long-recognized exceptions. For example, prior testimony may sometimes
be admitted if the witness is unavailable. However, in Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S.
36 (2004), the Supreme Court increased the scope of the Confrontation Clause by ruling
that “testimonial” out-of-court statements are inadmissible if the accused did not have
the opportunity to cross-examine that accuser and that accuser is unavailable at trial. In Davis v. Washington 547 U.S. 813 (2006),
the Court ruled that “testimonial” refers to any statement that an objectively reasonable
person in the declarant’s situation would believe likely to be used in court. In Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, 557 U.S.
___ (2009), and Bullcoming v. New Mexico, 564 U.S. ___ (2011), the Court ruled that
admitting a lab chemist’s analysis into evidence, without having him testify, violated the Confrontation
Clause. In Michigan v. Bryant, 562 U.S. ___ (2011),
the Court ruled that the “primary purpose” of a shooting victim’s statement as to who
shot him, and the police’s reason for questioning him, each had to be objectively determined. If the “primary purpose” was for dealing with
an “ongoing emergency”, then any such statement was not testimonial and so the Confrontation
Clause would not require the person making that statement to testify in order for that
statement to be admitted into evidence. The right to confront and cross-examine witnesses
also applies to physical evidence; the prosecution must present physical evidence to the jury,
providing the defense ample opportunity to cross-examine its validity and meaning. Prosecution generally may not refer to evidence
without first presenting it. In the late 20th and early 21st century this
clause became an issue in the use of the silent witness rule. Compulsory process
The Compulsory Process Clause gives any criminal defendant the right to call witnesses in his
favor. If any such witness refuses to testify, that
witness may be compelled to do so by the court at the request of the defendant. However, in some cases the court may refuse
to permit a defense witness to testify. For example, if a defense lawyer fails to
notify the prosecution of the identity of a witness to gain a tactical advantage, that
witness may be precluded from testifying. Assistance of counsel
A criminal defendant has the right to be represented by counsel. In Powell v. Alabama, 287 U.S. 45 (1932),
the Supreme Court ruled that “in a capital case, where the defendant is unable to employ
counsel, and is incapable adequately of making his own defense because of ignorance, feeble
mindedness, illiteracy, or the like, it is the duty of the court, whether requested or
not, to assign counsel for him.” In Johnson v. Zerbst, 304 U.S. 458 (1938),
the Supreme Court ruled that in all federal cases, counsel would have to be appointed
for defendants who were too poor to hire their own. However, in Betts v. Brady, 316 U.S. 455 (1942),
the Court declined to extend this requirement to the state courts under the Fourteenth Amendment
unless the defendant demonstrated “special circumstances” requiring the assistance of
counsel. In 1961, the Court extended the rule that
applied in federal courts to state courts. It held in Hamilton v. Alabama, 368 U.S. 52
(1961), that counsel had to be provided at no expense to defendants in capital cases
when they so requested, even if there was no “ignorance, feeble mindedness, illiteracy,
or the like.” Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963),
explicitly overruled Betts v. Brady and found that counsel must be provided to indigent
defendants in all felony cases. Under Argersinger v. Hamlin, 407 U.S. 25 (1972),
counsel must be appointed in any case resulting in a sentence of actual imprisonment. Regarding sentences not immediately leading
to imprisonment, the Court in Scott v. Illinois, 440 U.S. 367 (1979), ruled that counsel did
not need to be appointed, but in Alabama v. Shelton, 535 U.S. 654 (2002), the Court held
that a suspended sentence that may result in incarceration can not be imposed if the
defendant did not have counsel at trial. As stated in Brewer v. Williams, 430 U.S.
387 (1977), the right to counsel “ at least that a person is entitled to the help of a
lawyer at or after the time that judicial proceedings have been initiated against him,
whether by formal charge, preliminary hearing, indictment, information, or arraignment.” Brewer goes on to conclude that once adversary
proceeding have begun against a defendant, he has a right to legal representation when
the government interrogates him and that when a defendant is arrested, “arraigned on warrant
before a judge,” and “committed by the court to confinement,” “here can be no
doubt that judicial proceedings ha been initiated.” Self-representation
A criminal defendant may represent himself, unless a court deems the defendant to be incompetent
to waive the right to counsel. In Faretta v. California, 422 U.S. 806 (1975),
the Supreme Court recognized a defendant’s right to pro se representation. However, under Godinez v. Moran, 509 U.S.
389 (1993), a court can require a defendant to be represented by counsel if it believes
the accused less than fully competent to adequately proceed without counsel. In Martinez v. Court of Appeal of California,
528 U.S. 152 (2000), the Supreme Court ruled the right to pro se representation did not
apply to appellate courts. In Indiana v. Edwards, 554 U.S. 164 (2008),
the Court ruled that a criminal defendant could be simultaneously competent to stand
trial, but not competent to represent himself. In Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817 (1977), the
Supreme Court held that the constitutional right of “meaningful access to the courts”
can be satisfied by counsel or access to legal materials. Bounds has been interpreted by several United
States courts of appeals to mean a pro se defendant does not have a constitutional right
to access a prison law library to research his defense when access to the courts has
been provided through appointed counsel.

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