The Sixth Amendment is a section of the U.S. Constitution that protects the rights of defendants to ensure that they receive fair and speedy trials. It guarantees them several rights that include knowing the accuser, enjoying the services of a lawyer, and receiving a speedy trial (Acker 24). In addition, it gives them the right to an impartial jury and the right to be informed about the nature of accusations brought against them. This piece of legislation has been used extensively in the United States, especially in cases involving terrorism and witness protection. It is also commonly used in sex crimes. The Sixth Amendment ensures that all criminal defendants get a fair hearing and eradicates the possibility of false imprisonment as well as unfair treatment that criminals face in the hands of law enforcement officers.
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History of the Sixth Amendment
The enactment of the Sixth Amendment dates back to the year 1776 when it was first drafted by George Mason as a proposal (Acker 27). It was initially a section of the Virginia Declaration of Rights. The original document contained all the provisions of the current legislation except the right of a defendant to get the services of a lawyer. It was enacted into law in 1791 after being ratified by the state. Several historical cases led to its adoption.
For instance, an incident involving the Scottsboro boys led to the Powell v. Alabama case that was lodged after the imprisonment of the boys (Acker 32). The legal community argued that the boys had been denied justice because their attorneys had not been given sufficient time to gather facts and prepare for the case. Other court cases that were important in the adoption of the Sixth Amendment included the Betts V. Brady case of 1942 and the Gideon v. Wainright case of 1963.
Interpretation of the Sixth Amendment by the Supreme Court since its adoption
The Supreme Court has interpreted the Sixth Amendment in different ways since its adoption. In the Barker v. Wingo case of 1972, the Court drafted guidelines to have been since been used to determine whether a defendant’s right to a speedy trial has been violated (Shea 31). In the Strunk v. United States case of 1973, the Court ruled that any violation of a defendant’s right to a speedy trial would result in the nullification of the ruling (Vile 410).
The right to a public trial was revised by the Court to include certain restrictions in cases where publicity had the potential to alter the outcomes of a trial and thus deny the defendant justice. This ruling was made during the Sheppard v. Maxwell case in 1966. The Sixth Amendment gives defendants the right to a speedy trial (Shea 36). However, the Supreme Court has interpreted this provision to make it relative, depending on the prevailing circumstances associated with a certain case.
The speed of a trial encompasses the right of the defendant and the need to uphold public justice. Therefore, there is a need to balance the requirements of the constitution to maintain the right of defendants and defend public justice. The Court has been very strict in its interpretation of the defendant’s right to counsel. In Powell v. Alabama, Johnson v. Zerbst, Betts v. Brady and Progeny, and Gideon v. Wainright cases, the Supreme Court maintained that the right of a defendant to have an attorney was incontrovertible (Shea 48). The right was also interpreted to include effective assistance by counsel and the right to retain an attorney during the entire period of trial.
Court cases that are relevant to the Sixth Amendment
The precepts of the Sixth Amendment have been used in various instances to resolve court cases. An example of its application is during the Gideon v. Wainright case in 1963. Gideon had been accused of breaking into a house with the intent to commit a crime. Gideon represented himself because he did not have an attorney. He requested the judge to appoint an attorney for him because he could not afford one (Shea 63).
However, the judge denied him the request because, at the time, Florida’s law contained provisions that provided state attorneys to defendants who were in court for capital offense charges only (Shea 63). Gideon filed a petition to the Supreme Court that challenged his conviction, which he described as a violation of his rights as stipulated in the Sixth Amendment. The Court reversed the ruling and remanded Gideon because of his right to get an attorney had been violated (Vile 410).
In the Sheppard v. Maxwell case that was ruled in 1966, the Court maintained that the defendant had not received a fair trial. Sheppard had been convicted of second-degree murder after the death of his wife. Citing an unfair trial, Sheppard challenged the ruling (Shea 73).
He presented evidence before the Supreme Court that the lower court’s judge had failed to protect him from the massive glare of the media that contributed to the outcome of the case in which he was denied a fair trial. The Court evaluated the case and concluded that Sheppard had not received a fair trial and maintained that the trial judge had allowed massive media publicity to alter the outcome of the hearing (Shea 73). The media had ganged against Sheppard with the intent to portray him in negative light both to the public and to the jury. The ruling was overturned.
Acker, James, and Brody David. Criminal Procedure: A Contemporary Perspective. New York: Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2004. Print.
Shea, Therese. The Sixth Amendment: The Rights of the Accused in Criminal Cases. New York: the Rosen Publishing Group, 2011. Print.
Vile, John. Encyclopedia of Constitutional Amendments, Proposed Amendments, and Amending Issues, 1798-2002. New York: ABC-CLIO, 2003. Print.