(HorizonPost.com) – When it comes to constitutional amendments, the Sixth doesn’t get as much attention as the Second (the right to bear arms) or the Fifth (the right not to incriminate yourself). However, it’s an integral part of our legal process that ensures fair treatment for everyone that comes before the courts.
Introduced in 1791 as part of the Bill of Rights, the Sixth Amendment guarantees that every criminal defendant has the right to a speedy trial and an impartial jury. It also provides that defendants are entitled to know the nature of the charges against them and the identity of the person(s) accusing them of these offenses.
These rights may seem basic, especially in 2020. But if they didn’t have constitutional protection, criminal trials would be open to political manipulation. This would have disastrous consequences on human rights.
Background of the Sixth Amendment
The provisions of the Sixth Amendment are essential for the maintenance of due process. This is the set of procedures that ensure that every person who comes before the courts gets the same treatment. Due process is considered one of the cornerstones of liberal democracy. Provisions similar to those contained in the Sixth Amendment can be found in the constitutional documents of almost every developed nation on earth.
The Sixth Amendment in Practice
While the text of the Sixth Amendment appears straightforward, it can often present difficulties in real-world scenarios. There have been a number of cases in which judges have had to make decisions about what the Amendment means in practice.
One of the best-known examples of this comes from the case of Barker vs. Wingo. Here, the Supreme Court had to consider whether a delay of five years in the commencement of a murder trial was unconstitutional. They held that no specific period could work in every case and that courts should use a balancing test to decide on a case-by-case basis whether a given delay is unreasonable.
The 1963 case of Gideon vs Wainwright established that every accused person has the right to a publicly-funded attorney if they cannot afford to hire one. Prior to this case, states had the right to refuse legal counsel to accused persons under given circumstances, a situation that is almost unimaginable today.
While the Sixth Amendment is not the most celebrated of our constitutional provisions, it is no less important than any others. The right to fair treatment before the law is one of the fundamental principles of our nation. It is as relevant today as when the founding fathers enshrined it in our Constitution.
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