Here is our seventh in a series of CCV’s essay’s on the US Constitution and Bill of Rights. This time we give our views on the Sixth Amendment. Again, we request that you comment and or share with friends.
Along with the 4th and 5th Amendments, the 6th Amendment guarantees an individual’s rights when faced with possible criminal proceedings by the government.
As the primary author of the Bill of Rights, Madison believed that individuals should be able to defend themselves against a more powerful government. A little over a hundred years before the 6th Amendment was written, the British Parliament passed the Habeas Corpus Act to ensure that people were not imprisoned without due process. Governmental abuse of power was to be defended against when an individual’s liberty was at risk.
The 6th Amendment deals with what are known as the seven rights for the accused. The first is the right to a speedy trial. All too often in Europe, an accused could be held indefinitely. The second right is the right to a public trial. The Framers were fearful of Star Chambers and secret tribunals being instituted by the state depriving citizens of their liberty and no one would be aware.
The third right for the accused is the ability to be tried by a jury of his fellow citizens. This allows for the accused to be judged by other members of his community who are impartial. Another of the rights recognized is that the trial must take place within the state where the crime is committed.
The accused may call witnesses on his behalf and cross examine those giving evidence against him. He may subpoena those witnesses that he feels are necessary for his defense. In most instances, it includes the right to be able to compel a witness to testify to the truth. There can be no reliance on written statements made if the accused is unable to confront his accusers.
Lastly, the 6th Amendment gives the accused the right to legal counsel. In Powell v. Alabama in1932, the Supreme Court ruled that the state must pay for a lawyer for a defendant if he could not afford one. In the 1966 case, Miranda v. Arizona, the Court ruled that a defendant could not be asked to incriminate himself. In the Miranda case, the suspect was asked to write a statement confessing to a crime without first being told that he had a right to counsel.
Historically, the Framers were protective of individuals in their dealings with the government. The ability to detain and arrest a person for a crime must be balanced by the ability of the individual to adequately defend against the overwhelming power of the state. It is too easy for the state to deprive people of due process. There must be the ability to safeguard an individual’s rights.