The 6th Amendment to the United States Constitution Explained

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Table of Contents

Introduction

The 6th Amendment concerns the rights of anyone accused of a criminal offence. It states that any accused person has the right to a lawyer to act on their behalf, has the right to an early trial and that the trial should be held in public.

It also states that the jury should be impartial, and that the accused has to be told the nature of the charges against them and the identity of those making those charges.

The accused must also be able to bring witnesses who will speak in his favor to the court.

There is an assumption under the Constitution of the United States that an accused person is innocent until proved guilty in a court of law. The 6th Amendment protects the rights of an accused person and states that they must be able to defend themselves properly.

No-one can be arbitrarily found guilty of a crime and then punished. They must be allowed the due process of the law and the chance to prove themselves innocent.

The rights of an accused person

The architects of the 6th Amendment felt that the right to legal counsel was the most important of the rights given to an accused person. They even stated that if the accused cannot afford counsel, the State would provide one for them. Once the accused has counsel to act on his behalf, then the other rights become much easier to achieve.

The right to a trial soon after arrest supports the notion that the accused is innocent until proven guilty. The more quickly that this can be done is better for the accused, better for the accusers and better for the reputation of the legal process. Evidence will be less vulnerable to loss or damage, witnesses will have events fresh in their minds, and so will the accused. The result is a fair trial.

Public trials are generally considered to be an important part of the judicial process. They make it less likely that either the judges or the prosecutors can be corrupted or bribed. Witnesses may be less inclined to commit perjury if their lies can be scrutinized by the public. Trials held behind closed doors can lead to suspicions regarding their fairness.

Where an accused person is tried by a jury, that jury must be impartial. Juries in the United States comprise 12 citizens, picked at random. The decision of the jury must be unaimous in Federal trials. Jury trials held under states auspices do not have to be unanimous.

Defendants in a trial have the right under the 6th Amendment to cross-examine witnesses brought by the prosecution. They also have the right to bring witnesses to speak in their defense.

Conclusion

The principle that an accused person is innocent until proved guilty is a basic human right, and is enshrined in the 6th Amendment. This right is the backbone of a civilized society, and the founding fathers were acutely aware of the responsibility they had to ensure its inclusion in the Billof Rights.