The Sixth Amendment, like the other provisions mentioned elaborately in the Bill of Rights, underwent changes in its interpretation.
The House of Representatives proposed the aforementioned in the year 1789 in order to guarantee the right to a jury trial in state prosecutions, however, having a radically opposite opinion, the Senate stood at not consenting to it.
In 1869, the case of Twitchell v. Commonwealth established that the Sixth Amendment was not in a position to be directly applied to the states.
This limited the reach of the Amendment to federal courts, and created room for several doubts and questions pertaining to its application in federally established courts that lie outside the jurisdiction of the states.
The court ruled that the Amendment must be followed in criminal prosecutions in the District of Columbia and incorporated territories but not in unincorporated territories.
To dive deeper in understanding the concept of the aforementioned, in the Consular cases, such that of the matter involving an individual named, Ross, being the primary case in the aforesaid sector, the Court was of the view that the Sixth Amendment was applicable solely to the United States citizens as well as the individuals residing within the U.S. or any person who was brought to the U.S. for trial, and not to U.S. citizens who reside or temporarily stay overseas.
However, the decision curated in Reid v. Covert rendered this ruling invalid as there are cases where U.S. authorities conduct proceedings against American civilians in foreign locations.
Although not explicitly covered by the Sixth Amendment, the Court has yet, extended the concept of protection falling under the Sixth Amendment which is the right given to individuals against state infringement through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Along the same lines, the Sixth Amendment, being an important aspect of the Bill of Rights, is relevant to criminal prosecutions, and to only those actions that are downrightly prohibited by Congress with associated punishments which are considered as crimes.
Recovery actions for penalties which are imposed by Congress have typically not been positioned under the category of criminal prosecutions, although some exceptions very precisely do exist.
The aforementioned refers to deportation proceedings, appeals, and post-conviction applications for collateral relief that do not stand to be a part of criminal prosecutions.
However, contempt proceedings, which were once not termed criminal prosecutions, are now viewed as such under the said Amendment.
Taking as an illustration of the aforesaid, the 6th Amendment places an emphasis on the fact that an individual is not subjected to a protracted legal process, which can prolong their stress and potentially impede their defence.
Additionally, the 6th Amendment mandates that all criminal trials are conducted publicly to promote fairness, authenticity, and honesty for the accused and to deter perjury, among all other reasons.
1. Definition of the Sixth Amendment
Known as a Noun, the definition of the aforesaid is “The amendment to the U.S. Constitution that guarantees all citizens the right to a fair and speedy criminal trial.”
The origin of the definition, that is the year the said amendment was enacted was 1791.
1.1 The Right to Speedy Trial
Truly lying essential to highlight, the U.S. Constitution grants American citizens a very crucial provision which is the right to a speedy trial.
This power ensures that individuals are not privy to endure prolonged periods of waiting for their trial to commence, particularly for those who are incarcerated while awaiting the said trial or proceedings.
By providing a way to make sure the trial runs on time, the court can efficiently address and analyse the matter, enabling the defendants to learn of their destiny prevailing in the outcome of the trial sooner rather than later.
In addition to the aforementioned benefits, the right to a speedy trial also serves to prevent the defendant from experiencing undue distress that may arise from the dragged anticipation of the trial.
Moreover, as time passes, a defendant’s ability to mount an effective defence in the trial could drastically diminish which could cost the defendant the entire outcome of the trial.
This is highlighted by the sixth Amendment, which stipulates that a defendant should not have to pay attorney fees for an extended period of time, such as five years or more, as this could result in the defendant having to dismiss their attorney and represent themselves due to financial constraints. Such a scenario could potentially cause avoidable harm to the defendant.
1.1.1 Historical Background on the Right to a Speedy Trial
To understand how the concept functions, it is essential to reel back in time, to how the idea came into play together.
The measures to prevent delays in criminal prosecutions have been in existence since before the Magna Carta and the abandonment of trial by ordeal in England dating to the year 1215.
In 1166, the Assize of Clarendon outlined a process for obtaining swift justice for accused individuals who were apprehended in a location that was not scheduled for an imminent judicial visit.
Later on, Sir Edward Coke, in his published written words in the “Institutes” which was a widely read work among lawyers in the American colonies, had listed speed as one of the three fundamental aspects of justice.
Therefore, the right to a speedy trial was well-established during the colonial period, with several state constitutions already guaranteeing this right at the time when the Sixth Amendment was ratified in the year 1791.
1.1.2 When the Right to a Speedy Trial Applies
Prior to the year 1971, the Supreme Court of the United States had not very aptly described that particular stage of the criminal proceedings where the right to a speedy trial was supposed to be put in motion.
Adding onto the necessity of the aforesaid statement, in the case of Pollard v. United States in 1957, the Court assumed, without curating a decision, that the right is to be applied under the phase of sentencing in any criminal prosecution.
In the following decade, the Supreme Court established that the primary purposes of the aforementioned right in a series of subsequent cases confirmed that such a powerful tool was not only applicable against the states through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment but was also applicable to defendants, who are already serving prison sentences in another jurisdiction.
However, these cases did not qualify for clarification as to which specific aspects of criminal prosecution were to be engaged in, to bring into play the right to a speedy trial and which actions in the said proceeding, extinguished it.
Diving deeper into comprehending the concept, the Supreme Court resolved the uncertainty regarding the commencement of the speedy trial right in the 1971 case of United States v. Marion.
The Court was of the view that the right to a speedy trial does not apply before the initiation of criminal proceedings either through an arrest or a formal charge against the accused.
In the case of Marion, the defendants were aggrieved as they witnessed a three-year delay between the commission of the crimes they were charged with and the issuance of an indictment against them.
It was revealed that the government had knowledge of the criminal activities during the three-year period but did not commence the prosecution in the due time because of the limitations ascertained on the use of resources.
While the Court acknowledged that pre-charge delays might cause harm to the defence, it concluded that other factors outweighed the importance of the right to a speedy trial in such cases.
Based on the aforementioned, the Supreme Court, on the account of the factors encompassed in the text of the Sixth Amendment, states not only the history of the speedy trial right and subsequent legislative interpretations of it but also the purpose of the right to curb the associated “evils” of public accusation.
The Court also emphasized the idea that other legal sources, such as statutes of limitations and the Due Process Clause, have been brought to play for safeguarding individuals against undue pre-charge delays apart from the Sixth Amendment.
To add further under the concept of the aforementioned, in Betterman v. Montana, a case of 2016, the Supreme Court was not only of the view but also resolved the issue that was left open for 60 or more years in the area of Pollard by holding that the right to a speedy trial no longer applies after conviction or that “the speedy trial right “detaches” upon conviction”.
The defendant in the case of Betterman argued that a fourteen-month delay was witnessed between his guilty plea conviction and his penalty of sentencing which violated his right to a speedy trial.
However, the Court rejected this claim, stating that the primary purpose of the speedy trial right is to safeguard the presumption of innocence, which does not apply to post-conviction proceedings like sentencing.
Adding on the same, the Court also noted that other legal sources, such as criminal procedure rules and the right to due process, extend protection against undue delay at the sentencing stage.
1.2 The Right to Public Trial
The right to a public trial is an essential component of a fair and just legal system. However, there are situations where a judge may decide to restrict the public eye on an ongoing trial so as to either protect the privacy and safety of the parties involved or to prevent any kind of interference with the administration of justice.
In these cases, the judge must carefully balance the competing interests at stake and make a well-reasoned judgement that is consistent with the Constitution of the United States and applicable by law.
It is important to note that any decision to close a trial to the public must be made on a case-by-case basis, and the judge must provide a clear and compelling justification for such an action.
The reasons below state the essentiality of a person’s right to a public trial being termed as highly crucial:
- Fair Trial – A public trial allows the general public to witness the fair treatment extended by the courts to the defendant.
- Perjury – Witnesses may be less likely to perform the act of dishonesty if they are aware that both the members of the court and their own peers are observing them.
- Witnesses – One of the main reasons for making a trial go public was that the more people are aware of the aforementioned, the more likely any potential witnesses may be willing to step forward for the enhancement of the case.
- Accountability – This point stands in a two-fold dimension. First, those who elect judges can watch them working their way through the proceedings, as well as determine if they want to re-elect them in the future. Secondly, the judge, jury, and courtroom staff will be more mindful of their actions if they know they have an audience who are constantly observing them.
1.2.1 Historical Background on the Right to a Public Trial
The right to a public trial has been recognized as an important safeguard against abuse of power by the government and as a means of ensuring a fair trial for the accused.
The idea of openness of the criminal trial allows the public to observe the proceedings and hold the government accountable for its actions wherever it serves to be essential. It also ensures that the defendant is treated fairly and that the trial is conducted in a manner consistent with due process.
Historically, the public nature of criminal trials was seen as a key feature of the common law system, which originated in England and was adopted by many other countries, including the United States.
In contrast, civil law systems, which developed in continental Europe, tended to favour a more inquisitorial approach to criminal justice, with judges taking a more active role in investigating crimes and gathering evidence.
Hence, the right to a public trial is considered an important element of the criminal justice system, although there may be some exceptions where closure is necessary to protect the safety or privacy of individuals involved in the case.
Adding to the concept of the history of the aforementioned right, public criminal trials were held in the American colonies prior to the ratification of the Sixth Amendment.
The right to a public trial was a fundamental part of the common law tradition that the colonists brought with them from England, and it was incorporated into the colonial legal systems.
Many of the colonial charters and constitutions guaranteed the right to a public trial, and this tradition continued after the colonies became states as well as drafted their own constitutions.
1.2.2 The States with Regards to the Right to a Public Trial
The Virginia Declaration of Rights, which was adopted in 1776, declared that “the trial of facts where they arise is one of the greatest securities of the lives, liberties and estates of the people.”
The Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 similarly declared that “the freedom of deliberation, speech, and debate, in either house of the legislature, is so essential to the rights of the people, that it cannot be the foundation of any accusation or prosecution, action or complaint, in any other court or place whatsoever; and, in all prosecutions for libels, the truth may be given in evidence to the jury; and if it shall appear to the jury that the matter charged as libellous is true, and was published with good motives, and for justifiable ends, the party shall be acquitted.“
1.2.3 Scope of the Right to a Public Trial
The Supreme Court has recognized that there may be situations where the closure of the trial is either put into play to protect the safety of witnesses or to prevent disruption of the proceedings.
In the case of Weaver v. Massachusetts, the court held that “courtroom closure is to be avoided, but there are some circumstances when it is justified. The problems that may be encountered by trial courts in deciding whether some closures are necessary, or even in deciding which members of the public should be admitted when seats are scarce, are difficult ones.”
Adding on the same, 3 decades earlier, in the case of Waller v. Georgia, the Supreme Court set forth a four-part test for determining whether a criminal trial closure is constitutional under the Sixth Amendment.
The test requires that the party seeking closure must advance an overriding interest that is likely to be prejudiced, hence the closure must be no broader than necessary to protect that interest.
It is essential for the trial court to consider reasonable alternatives to closure, and the court must make findings adequate to support the closure.
Complementing the same, the Court has emphasized that the test requires a case-by-case analysis of the particular circumstances presented and that the party seeking closure bears the burden of justifying it.
1.3 The Right to Trial by Jury
While Article III of the Constitution has already established the right to trial by jury in criminal cases and proceedings, the Supreme Court has primarily relied on the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of a jury trial in its analysis of the said right.
Following the aforementioned, the Sixth Amendment explicitly emphasises the right to trial by an impartial jury for criminal offences, followed by this right to have been incorporated in the states through the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause.
Complementing the idea put forth above, the Sixth Amendment’s right to trial by jury is made applicable in both federal and state courts due to its inclusion through the Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause.
However, it is essential to highlight that a defendant has the option to waive this right and opt for a trial before a judge alone, provided that the waiver is given with their full understanding and agreement or the “express and intelligent consent” of the defendant, along with the approval of the court and the prosecution.
Similarly, a defendant can choose to plead guilty instead of going ahead with the trial, but they must do so with a clear and conscious waiver of their right to a trial by jury and other said constitutional rights.
1.3.1 Scope of the Right to Trial by Jury
The right to a jury trial includes the right to have the jury decide on the final verdict of guilt or innocence or “the right to have a jury make the ultimate determination of guilt,” as mentioned verbatim.
Therefore, the criminal jury is not just a fact-finding body but an adjudicative one that determines guilt or innocence based on all issues put ahead before them, from the application of law to the facts, issues and prayers.
Highly crucial to ascertain the fact that the trial court is not allowed to take over the jury’s function by giving a verdict termed ‘guilty’ even when the evidence is conclusive.
Along the same lines, the court is not allowed to place its interference with the jurors‘ independent judgment in such a way that goes against the accused’s interests.
As modern times have curated legal principles, the fundamental ideas about the extent of the jury’s function have had their most notable effects on due process jurisprudence.
The Supreme Court has examined arguments that certain kinds of jury guidelines and instructions have unjustly restricted or distorted the jury’s role in determining the verdict.
Conversely, the Court’s interpretation of the Sixth Amendment has dealt with three primary concerns regarding the structure and function of the jury that range from its size, understanding whether or not it needs to be unanimous, and lastly to comprehend at what point shall they intervene in the proceedings.
1.4 The Right to Impartial Jury
Under the Sixth Amendment, it has been very category defined that the defendants are entitled to a fair trial by an impartial jury.
To shine a light on the said concept, an impartial jury is a group of individuals who are not only responsible for hearing the case without any bias but are also expected to render an unbiased verdict based on the basis of the evidence presented during the trial or the proceedings.
As a result of the aforesaid, the judges instruct the jurors to avoid reading newspapers or watching news reports while serving as a part of the jury.
The explanation of the aforestated lies in the idea that any external information they encounter may influence their decision in a way that deviates from the evidence presented in the courtroom causing them to curate a biased decision.
1.5 The Right to Counsel
The Right to Counsel is another power extended by the amendment to ensure that individuals are bestowed with rights to help them proceed with the trial or proceedings.
The Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to legal representation for any person residing in the nation, facing a criminal charge.
The aforementioned refers to the idea that all individuals, including non-citizens charged with a crime in the United States, have the right to an attorney who is authorized to represent them during their trial or proceedings.
Upon arrest, law enforcement officers inform the person of this right as part of the procedure, stating that if they cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for them.
The specific ways in which an attorney can aid a defendant will be absolutely dependent on the particulars of each case. Nevertheless, the right to counsel ensures that the defendant is entitled to certain services from their attorney, which remains consistent across the board.
Taking this as an illustration, it is essential for an Attorney to:
- Explain the defendant, and the rights they possess, as well as inform the client of what they are to expect during each phase of the proceeding or trial.
- Negotiate a plea bargain on behalf of the defendant if the situation permits.
- Make sure that no other individual is violating the client’s constitutional rights, either through law enforcement or during court proceedings.
- Work on various aspects of the case to ease the defendant’s burden, from investigating the facts, and gathering evidence, to examining witnesses.
1.5.1 Right to Have Counsel Appointed
In the landmark case of Gideon v. Wainwright, the Supreme Court established that the Sixth Amendment’s right to counsel applies rightly in criminal trials, regardless of whether the trial is at the state or federal level, or if the defendant’s counsel is appointed or retained.
The Court emphasized that the right to legal representation for individuals charged with a crime is “fundamental and essential.”
However, it is important to state that categorized as a complex issue, determining the extent to which the Sixth Amendment right to counsel applies in preliminary criminal proceedings and other contexts beyond the trial itself.
The Supreme Court has explained that the Sixth Amendment right to counsel is activated “at or after the time that judicial proceedings have been initiated.
As stated by the Court, “the Sixth Amendment right to counsel has triggered ‘at or after the time that judicial proceedings have been initiated ‘whether by way of formal charge, preliminary hearing, indictment, information, or arraignment.’
1.5.2 Right to Choose Counsel
To emphasise the concept of the Right to Counsel, it is important to pay heed to the essence of the Right to Choose Counsel.
While the Sixth Amendment generally allows a defendant to choose their own counsel, this right does not serve to be as absolute. The Supreme Court has recognized that in some cases, a defendant’s choice of attorney may be limited or denied.
Taking as an illustration, in the case of Wheat v. United States, the Court held that a district court is authorized to deny a defendant’s preferred counsel if there is an actual or potential conflict of interest.
Not only the aforementioned the Court also noted that a defendant may not have the power to demand the services of an attorney who is not a member of the bar, or who is unable to represent them due to financial or other reasons.
Furthermore, a defendant cannot insist on an attorney who may be compromised by past or ongoing relationships with the government. All in all, while the right to choose counsel is an important aspect of the Sixth Amendment, it is subject to reasonable restrictions to ensure a fair and impartial trial.
1.5.3 Right to Effective Assistance of Counsel
In order to seek the understanding of the right to effective assistance of the counsel, comprehending the case of McMann v. Richardson serves to be essential.
In the aforementioned case, the Supreme Court held that “the right to counsel is the right to the effective assistance of counsel.” There are three ways in which the right to effective assistance of counsel may be implicated, and it is important to note that the Sixth Amendment’s right to counsel also requires that counsel be free from conflicts of interest.
The first of which states that, a defendant’s right to effective assistance of counsel, includes the right to an attorney who can fully and competently represent their interests in court.
If a court restricts an attorney’s ability to do so, it could be considered interference with the defendant’s right to effective assistance of counsel. Examples of such restrictions could include limits on the number of witnesses an attorney can call or the types of evidence they can present.
The second aspect revolves around the idea that when a court appoints a defendant’s attorney to represent his co-defendant as well, this can potentially create a conflict of interest between the two defendants.
Taking as an illustration, if one defendant wishes to cooperate with the prosecution in exchange for a plea deal, while the other wishes to go to trial, the attorney may have a difficult time representing both clients’ interests effectively.
In such cases, the Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel requires that the court appoint separate counsel for each defendant to avoid the potential for conflicting interests.
The third part of the aforementioned emphasizes the fact of deprivation of effective assistance. The Supreme Court has established a two-pronged test for evaluating claims of ineffective assistance of counsel:
(1) whether counsel’s performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness, and
(2) whether the deficient performance prejudiced the defence.
The first prong requires a depiction of that counsel to have made errors so serious that it can be termed as the counsel not functioning as the “counsel” is supposed to as guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment.
The second prong requires the illustration of the fact that the deficient performance has actually prejudiced the defence. Prejudice in this context means that there is a reasonable probability that, the counsel’s unprofessional errors, have changed the fate of the proceedings.
The concept of the Sixth Amendment revolves around the rights the defendant possesses during the course of the trial or the proceedings.
From the right to a speedy trial, the right to a public trial to the right to having an impartial jury and the right to choose a counsel, the aforementioned gives the power to the defendant not just feel empowered but also as equal as any other individual.