What are my Sixth Amendment rights?

What are my Sixth Amendment rights?

The Sixth Amendment is part of the Bill of Rights, which is a grouping of the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The Bill of Rights was designed to ensure a variety of personal liberties to Americans. The Sixth Amendment lays out the basic rights of a person accused of a crime. It 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.”

There are numerous reasons that a speedy trial for an individual accused of a crime is so important to our judicial system.   First, If the court were to delay an accused’s trial, then witnesses to the alleged crime may have a hard time recalling exactly what happened at the crime scene. On the extreme end, if a court did not convene a trial in a timely matter, then some witnesses may even pass away before having a chance to testify. Surely, this would not result in a fair trial. Also, if a long time passed before a trial, then the accused could possibly  either wait in jail for a long time at an unnecessary cost or the accused might be tempted to move on and take a plea bargain that may or may not uphold true justice.

A public trial is important. It is one way to prevent judicial abuses. This right, however, can be waived by the accused and, in some cases, a trial or parts of a trial are kept behind closed doors. This is done when privacy is needed for witnesses to testify or when a witness’s well-being would be put at risk if the examination was open.

The Sixth Amendment grants important rights, but the right to trial by jury was not entirely new at the time of the amendment’s adoption. For example, Article III Section 2 of the Constitution mentions the right of trial by jury. In fact, this concept predates the drafting of the Constitution as well, having been used to check a person’s rights against the interests of monarchs in prior centuries. In a similar vein, a primary aim of jury selection nowadays is to create an impartial, unbiased panel of jurors. That is why lawyers on both sides of a case—the prosecution and the defense—may, according to specific rules, object to certain individuals participation in a jury. Still, a panel of jurors still should represent the overall population.

Next, the Sixth Amendment states that one must be tried in the district where the crime was committed.

Also, one who is accused of a crime must be notified of this accusation. This process begins in the courts.

If a witness is called during a trial and is questioned by the prosecutor, then the defense may also cross examine or question the witness. This, and the witness’s very presence in front of the accused, is designed to encourage truthfulness. Furthermore, this portion of the amendment, the right to confrontation, also excludes witnesses from testifying outside of court. A jury may learn more about a crime from a witness in person than from written statement presented to the court that cannot be cross-examined.

The next to last part of the amendment guarantees the accused’s right to put forth a witness in his or her defense during the trial. This portion of the amendment was an intentional break from common law that did not allow for compulsory process during certain trials.

Finally, the amendment states that anyone accused of a crime is afforded the right to legal counsel.

If you have been accused of a crime, then you should consult with an attorney as soon as possible. Do not issue a statement to the police without speaking with a lawyer first. Julie Rendelman is a lawyer with over 20 years of legal experience in New York City. To set up a free consultation, call 212-951-1232. Visit www.RendelmanLaw.com to learn about the types of crimes that Ms. Rendelman handles.

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