Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Sixth Amendment Definition:

A 1791 amendment to the American Constitution guaranteeing fundamental rights in criminal proceedings such as speedy trial, impartiality, public evidence of witnesses and a right to a lawyer.

Related Terms: Confrontation Clause, Ineffective Assistance, Deficient, Fourth Amendment, First Amendment, Fifth Amendment, Eighth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment

"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 where in 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 defense."

According to the The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States:

"The Sixth Amendment ... specifies seven (7) rights applicable in all criminal prosecutions: speedy trial, public trial, trial by jury, notice of the accusation, confrontation of opposing witnesses, compusory process for obtaining favorable witnesses and assistance of counsel."

In Barker, the Supreme Court of the US noted, re a speedy trial:

"Because of the imprecision of the right to speedy trial, the length of delay that will provoke such an inquiry is necessarily dependent upon the peculiar circumstances of the case. We can do little more than identify some of the factors which courts should assess in determining whether a particular defendant has been deprived of his right. Though some might express them in different ways, we identify four such factors: length of delay, the reason for the delay, the defendant's assertion of his right, and prejudice to the defendant."

In Waller, the US Supreme Court wrote, on the topic of a public trial:

"... the party seeking to close the hearing must advance an overriding interest that is likely to be prejudiced, the closure must be no broader than necessary to protect that interest, the trial court must consider reasonable alternatives to closing the proceeding, and it must make findings adequate to support the closure."

As to the right to an attorney, Justice Black of the US Supreme Court wrote in Gideon:

"... in our adversary system of criminal justice, any person haled (sic) into court, who is too poor to hire a lawyer, cannot be assured a fair trial unless counsel is provided for him.

"Governments, both state and federal, quite properly spend vast sums of money to establish machinery to try defendants accused of crime. Lawyers to prosecute are everywhere deemed essential to protect the public's interest in an orderly society.

"Similarly, there are few defendants charged with crime, few indeed, who fail to hire the best lawyers they can get to prepare and present their defenses. That government hires lawyers to prosecute and defendants who have the money hire lawyers to defend are the strongest indications of the wide—spread belief that lawyers in criminal courts are necessities, not luxuries.

"The right of one charged with crime to counsel may not be deemed fundamental and essential to fair trials in some countries, but it is in ours"

The right to counsel is not absolute and can be lost in some cases, such as waiver by conduct.


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