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6th Amendment Protections – Criminal Law

10. What protections does the 6th Amendment provide to individuals subject to criminal charges?

The 6th Amendment provides numerous procedural protections for someone who is subject to the prosecutorial process. These protections include:

•    Speedy and Public Trial – An individual, upon being charged with a crime, may request an expedited trial before a jury of her peers. This right prevents unduly long detention without proceeding with prosecution.

•    Trial by Jury – The 6th and 7th Amendments to the US Constitution allow for trial by jury. This right does not extend to administrative hearings, certain Article I hearings, juvenile proceedings, and certain misdemeanor cases.

•    Informed of Charges – The 6th Amendment ensures that individuals will be fully informed of the nature and extent of charges brought against them. If the Government fails to give notice of charges arising out of the same allegedly criminal conduct, the right to later bring those charges may be forfeited.

•    Confront One’s Accuser – Anyone accused of a crime has a right to confront (and cross-exam in court) anyone accusing her of the charged criminal activity.

•    Right of Subpoena – The court provides any defendant with the opportunity to subpoena witnesses to give testimony or evidence at trial if those witnesses or evidence are relevant to the charged criminal conduct.

•    Right to Counsel – Defendants have the right to be represented by a licensed attorney in any case that has the possibility of imprisonment. If an individual cannot afford an attorney, the government will provide the defendant with a free public attorney.

The rights afforded under the 6th Amendment have been interpreted broadly to ensure adequate protection of a criminal defendant’s rights.

•    Discussion: Do you believe that all of the above protections are warranted for individuals accused of crimes? Why is it important to allow a defendant the option of electing to have a speedy trial? Is there any justification for denying the right to jury trial in certain administrative and juvenile cases? How does the right to be informed of charges against a defendant have the effect of protecting against multiple prosecutions for a single course of conduct? Do you believe that a defendant should always have the right to confront her accuser (such as in rape or molestation cases)? How broad should the right of subpoena be and should it balance the rights of those subpoenaed against those of the defendant? Is it, and if so, why is it important to afford a defendant the right to legal counsel throughout the prosecution process (beginning at the point of arrest)?

•    Practice Question: Bernard was arrested on charges of conspiracy to commit murder. His accomplice, Abby, was also arrested but skipped bail and left the country. Without Abby, the prosecution will have a difficult time proving conspiracy against Bernard. The prosecution seeks to delay Bernard’s trial until international police are able to locate and detain Alice. What 6th Amendment rights can Bernard assert to aid in his defense?

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