United States Constitution

PREAMBLE : We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution



The Sixth Amendment

Text of Constitution:

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 'Travis Translation' of Constitution:

In criminal trials, anyone blamed for a crime will enjoy the right to a quick, public trial; decided by an open-minded jury; in the general place (district) where the crime was committed – these places will be determined by law. Anyone blamed for crimes must be told what crime they are accused of and why they are sbeing blamed. The person blamed for a crime has the right to face the witnesses against him or her, to have a way to bring forward witnesses on his or her side in court, and to have a lawyer for his or her defense.

Speedy and Public Trials Important Cases

In addition to the requirement that trials not be needlessly and prejudicially lengthy, the Constitution also requires that they be public. However, though the text of this provision may appear to be absolute, the Supreme Court has qualified this right in certain contexts. The question of media access to a courtroom, especially, has been the subject of much contention. The Constitution may endorse public trials – but a defendant also has the right to a fair trial. In Sheppard v. Maxwell (1965), the Supreme Court ruled that a defendant on trial for murder had not received a fair trial because of the incredibly hostile publicity toward him. So to in Estes v. Texas (1965). Thus, in later cases such as Waller v. Georgia (1983) and Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Court (1986), the Supreme Court explicitly qualified the right to a public trial by allowing the publicity of a trial to be limited in cases where such public access would unfairly prejudice the defendant.

 Sheppard v. Maxwell (1965)

Estes v. Texas (1965)

United States v. Marion (1971)

Barker v. Wingo (1972)

Waller v. Georgia (1983)

Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Court (1986)

Doggett v. United States (1992)

Southern Union Company v. United States (2012)Hurst v. Florida
Impartial Juries Important Cases
The 6th Amendment also guarantees an impartial jury in criminal cases. Originally, the jury requirement of the Constitution was interpreted by the Supreme Court as the same as was required under English common law. In other words, the Constitution was merely codifying the English concept of a jury in the Constitution, not inventing a new framework. Therefore, in earlier cases like Thompson v. Utah (1898) and Patton v. United States (1930), the Supreme Court held that a jury absolutely had to have exactly twelve members – as was the practice in England. In Thompson, for example, Utah had replaced the twelve-member jury with an eight-member jury (like many other amendments, the 6th has also been incorporated into the 14th Amendment and applied to the states). Utah asserted that eight jurors could be just as impartial and capable of a group as twelve. However, the Court stated that “the wise men who framed the Constitution of the United States and the people who approved it were of opinion that life and liberty, when involved in criminal prosecutions, would not be adequately secured except through the unanimous verdict of twelve jurors.”

However, despite this insistence on adherence to English precedent, this requirement has since been relaxed. In Williams v. Florida (1970), the Court ruled that Florida’s practice of using six-member jurors was constitutional (though in Ballew v. Georgia (1978), the Court also held that six was the constitutional minimum – a jury of five members was inadequate).

Also, in addition to the number of jurors being a constitutional requirement under the 6th Amendment, so is the makeup of the jury. Today, a jury must be comprised of a cross section of the community. When choosing a jury, the lawyers from either side may use what are known as peremptory challenges. This is when a lawyer rejects a juror without having to give any reason whatsoever. This authority gives broad leeway to each party to make decisions without having to reveal underlying rationales. But the Supreme Court has placed limits on these challenges. For example, in Batson v. Kentucky (1986), the Court held that a juror could not be stricken simply because he or she was African American. In Taylor v. Louisiana (1975) the Court held of a similar qualification for the exclusion of women as well. Finally, as a footnote, it is worth mentioning that such exclusions not only violate the 6th Amendment right to an impartial jury made up of a cross-section of the community – but they also violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

 Thompson v. Utah (1898)

Patton v. United States (1930)

Williams v. Florida (1970)

Taylor v. Louisiana (1975)

Ballew v. Georgia (1978)

Batson v. Kentucky (1986)
Confrontation Clause Important Cases
The so-called ‘Confrontation Clause’ is the requirement that a party be given the chance to cross-examine a witness at a criminal trial. In other words, if the person from whom the information came is unavailable to be cross-examined – then that evidence is not admissible in court. For example, in Pointer v. Texas (1965), a witness had testified against the defendant at an earlier proceeding where the defendant’s counsel was not present to cross-examine him. Then, at trial, the prosecution attempted to use the transcript of the testimony as evidence – and the witness had since moved away and was not personally asked to be present at trial. The Court held that this testimony, then, could not be admitted – to do so would be a violation of the Confrontation Clause.

This right has been qualified in extraordinary circumstances, however. For example, in Maryland v. Craig (1990), the Court permitted the child victim of sex abuse to testify via one-way closed-circuit camera. In other words, at trial, while the jury could see the child, the child could not see the defendant or the proceedings. This was done to protect the already emotionally damaged victim from further trauma. Moreover, the defendant’s counsel did have an opportunity to cross-examine the witness. Therefore, the Court held this to be constitutional.

In recent years, the Confrontation Clause has been strengthened further still. For decades, one of the foundational principles of the Confrontation Clause was that, if an earlier piece of testimony could be shown to be reliable, then it could be admitted at trial regardless of the clause. This principle of reliability, asserted by the Court in Ohio v. Roberts (1980), was explicitly rejected in Crawford v. Washington (2004). In Crawford, the Court held that reliability was essentially irrelevant. Under the Confrontation Clause, a witness must be available for cross-examination.

 Pointer v. Texas (1965)

Ohio v. Roberts (1980)

Maryland v. Craig (1990)

Crawford v. Washington (2004)Padilla v. Kentucky(2010) 
The Right to Counsel Important Cases
The right of a defendant to have his or her own representation at a criminal trial is quite broad. In Powell v. Alabama (1932), the Court held that a defendant on trial for a crime that could lead to the death penalty was constitutionally entitled to a lawyer whether or not that defendant could afford one. In Johnson v. Zerbst (1938), the Court expanded this to all federal criminal cases, regardless of potential sentence. In Gideon v. Wainwright (1963), the Court extended this requirement to state criminal cases as well (though in Scott v. Illinois (1979), the Court did qualify this right by holding that a defendant is not entitled to a court-appointed attorney if he or she is accused of a misdemeanor that would not result in time spent in prison). Powell v. Alabama (1932)

Johnson v. Zerbst (1938)

Gideon v. Wainwright (1963)

Scott v. Illinois (1979)