The 6th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was included in the Bill of Rights passed in 1791.
The original 6th Amendment text 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 defence.
The 6th Amendments provides a list of guidelines for how criminal prosecutions are to be executed in a fair, legal and accurate manner. Probably the most well-known directive from the 6th Amendment is a criminal defendant has the right to a speedy trial. Stemming from Barker v. Wingo in 1972, the court devised a balancing test to ensure these rights are not violated. They consist of:
Additionally, criminal defendants have the right to a public trial (this is not absolute) and an impartial jury of his or her peers. The law protects vicinage, so the crime is tried in the location where it took place. He or she must be notified of the crime they are being accused of, and the court must disallow “hearsay” from the proceedings. Furthermore, the defendant has the right to an attorney, and the court must supply him or her with one if they cannot afford their own and they can call witnesses in their favor to appear at the trial.
The 6th Amendment is all about criminal cases and protecting the rights of people accused of crimes in America. Their rights to due process are secured by this long list of guidelines that law enforcement officers and the court officials must abide by or risk a mistrial by violating someone’s 6th Amendment rights.
It is used as much today as when it was first ratified by Congress back in 1791.
During a dramatic and emotional case back in 1932, Powell vs. Alabama, several young black teens were accused of raping two white women. The Supreme Court overturned their convictions because throughout the process they were not allowed to obtain legal counsel.
The landmark case of Gideon vs. Wainwright in 1963 paved the way for the 6th Amendment to apply in state venues and not just federal court. The case concerned a Florida man who was convicted and denied counsel by the district court. After appealing to the Supreme Court not only was his conviction overturned but it provided precedent for the 6th Amendment to apply to state courts as well going forward.
The 1968 case of Witherspoon v. Illinois where the state challenged so many potential jurors before trial, the defendants 6th Amendment rights to due process were violated. The Supreme Court ruled that the state was “stacking the deck” to try and get enough supporters of the death penalty for his sentencing.
In 1992 with Doggett v. United States the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the defendant who had been awaiting trial for 8 & 1/2 years, clearly violating his 6th Amendment right to a speedy trial.
Then in Blanton v. City of North Las Vegas in 1989, Melvin Blanton was charged with a DUI. Instead of the trial by jury, he was given a bench trial. He appealed claiming his 6th Amendment rights were violated but it was overruled stating that his crime was “petty” and subject to less than six months in jail therefore not worthy of a jury.
America suffers from a high crime rate, and with criminal cases taking place every day in U.S. courts, the 6th Amendment rights come into play often. Protection against any significant delays in scheduling a trial, access to a public trial by jury, and rights to an attorney are some of the ways that the 6th Amendment are used in our modern society. Probably the most popular use of this amendment is access to a lawyer. Although this is an essential part of our criminal justice system, some cases and defendants still fall through the cracks and may not even be aware they are allowed, legal counsel.
Although when the founding fathers penned the 6th Amendment, the court system was very different, it applies well to our current state of affairs and protects criminal defendants as intended in a variety of ways based on many different situations and variances.