Accessibility links

Breaking News

U.S. Institutions - The Sixth Amendment

FILE - A member of Congress holds a copy of the U.S. Constitution.

This Editorial is part of a series on the U.S. Constitution and the structure of the U.S. government.

U.S. Institutions - The Sixth Amendment
please wait

No media source currently available

0:00 0:03:25 0:00

In a bid to protect the rights of citizens, the founders of the United States included in the Constitution, the legal framework of the new government, ten Amendments: three to protect individual rights and seven to ensure justice. They are collectively named the Bill of Rights.

The Sixth Amendment deals with the rights of people accused of crimes. It seeks to guarantee fairness in criminal trials by delineating important legal procedures that the state must observe during the process.

The Amendment’s first clause maintains that every defendant has the right to a speedy and public trial. In other words, a person accused of a crime cannot be indefinitely locked up in a jail cell while the state drags its heels, nor may the defendant be tried in secrecy.

The second clause stipulates that a defendant has the right to be judged by a jury of his peers, and that jury must also be impartial. Essentially, this means that the jurors must be selected from a group of people that represent a cross-section of the defendant’s community, and who hold no biases against the accused.

The third clause of the Sixth Amendment requires the state to formally notify the defendant as to the “nature and cause of the accusation” with which he or she is charged. The charges must be specific, and all of the elements of the crime with which the defendant is charged must be stated.

The fourth clause directs that the defendant has the right to confront and cross-examine, or challenge the witnesses against him or her. This is to ensure that the judge, jury, and public at large may evaluate the accuracy of the testimony made in open court.

The final clause of the Sixth Amendment states that the accused has the right to be represented by an attorney.

In essence, the Sixth Amendment ensures the accused is presumed to be innocent, and that the prosecution cannot establish guilt without being challenged.

In the words of the principal framer of the Constitution, Alexander Hamilton, “Trial by jury cannot be considered as a natural right, but a right resulting from a social compact, which regulates the action of the community, but is as essential to secure the liberty of the people as any one of the pre-existent rights of nature."