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Understanding Amendment VI to the Constitution

Updated on November 1, 2013

This amendment affects our judicial system of justice and the requirements within it may raise some questions whether the principles engrained in it are being satisfied. Our judicial system is well structured but the capacity of it to satisfy its requirements may be in question. In the beginning of our country the volume of cases in our judicial system along with the population was far less than it is today. The judicial system must comply with the conditions set forth and if changes are needed they must be addressed through actions of the applicable government entity.

Throughout our country there are various levels in our judicial system including city, county, state and federal courts. The specific requirements of this amendment are provided below:

“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 wherein 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 defence.”

In addressing the right and need for a speedy and public trial it must also include a fair trial with ample time for the defense to prepare their case and access to the information the prosecution has against their client or clients. This aspect is important to satisfy the need for a fair trial. Defense attorneys must have access to the information the prosecution plans on using against their defendant. The question of a speedy trial in the context of a public trial presents some problems with the current case load within our judicial system. It not only involves attorneys but prosecutors. Again our judicial system is well structured but the volume now in place raises questions as to whether our judicial system can handle the volume in terms of the requirements of this amendment.

In terms of the fairness of a trial to which individuals are entitled it sometimes requires moving a case from one location to another to accomplish this critical aspect. Each defendant is entitled to not only a speedy trial but a fair one. The term speedy with regards to this amendment appears to be in question with some trials taking weeks or months to be scheduled. Some cases especially high profile cases there are many witnesses from both sides to be called and questioned. It often takes weeks to go through all the evidence and questioning all the witnesses.

Another aspect of the case backlog in our judicial system involves the costs to operate the courts and the salaries of those involved in the judicial process. We as individuals want to keep the costs of government down but in the judicial system the costs may need to rise to address and ensure the requirements of this amendment are accomplished. This is contingent upon two things. First and foremost is a responsibility of prosecutors to ensure they have a case they can win based on the accumulated evidence. In high profile cases where the public expects a trial to take place it is difficult to make a decision not to prosecute. In other cases the same rule should be applied. Costs should not be the consideration by prosecutors when making decisions to have a trial.

The second is contingent upon having the resources and facilities to accomplish the requirement for a speedy trial. Without the resources and facilities it is difficult for the judicial system to satisfy the requirements of this amendment. In terms of judicial resources it is imperative all positions of judge be filled as quickly as possible with qualified individuals. At any time there are open judge positions within our judicial system and state and federal governments have a responsibility to fill these positions. Some positions are filled through elections while others are appointed after confirmation hearings. These hearings are important to ensure the quality of decisions to be made irrespective of personal opinions on critical issues.

Hearings held at state and federal government levels have often been in the news especially at the federal level. The level of cases currently in the system and those in the future can only be handled with judge positions being filled. This would help to ensure the requirements of this amendment will be accomplished.

While I have primarily focused on criminal jury trials there are also other trials which seem to be on the increase. These are where individuals or groups are suing for damages from individuals or organizations. The world of today seems to be such that individuals or organizations are not hesitant about filing a lawsuit for any reason. Some of these have contributing factors in which an individual or organization has some responsibility. I am not condemning any individual or organization which files such lawsuits but the increase which appears to be skyrocketing needs to be addressed within our judicial system. Whether a jury trial is the right venue or not depends on the details of the case. Regardless these cases fall under the requirements of this amendment and the process or method used needs to ensure the requirements of this amendment are accomplished.


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