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7 Secrets to Maximizing Your New York Auto Accident Award

By Bryan J. Hutchinson

What are my Sixth Amendment rights under the United States Constitution?

Right to Speedy Public Trial by an Impartial Jury of Your Peers

The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution is part of the Bill of Rights which is the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution. The Bill of Rights is a series of restrictions on the power of the United States government to interfere with our natural rights of liberty and property including but not limited to freedom of speech, a freedom of the press, free assembly, free association, and the right to keep and bear arms.

The Sixth Amendment to the Bill of Rights provides:

"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."

The Sixth Amendment to the Bill of Rights guarantees that a citizen accused of a crime have the following seven rights:

1) speedy trial;
2) public trial;
3) an impartial jury;
4) to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation;
5) confrontation of witnesses;
6) witnesses in his favor; and
7) assistance of counsel.

Speedy Trial Clause

"In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy . . . trial . . ."

The sixth amendment grants the accused the right to a speedy trial to prevent citizens from lingering in prison while the State drags its feet. The Founding Fathers wanted an accused to have a fast trial and not to suffer the fate that many had suffered in the Kings dungeons.

Public Trial Clause

"In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a . . . public trial . . ."

The right to a public trial guaranteed that the government would not have secret evidence, secret trial and secret imprisonment. The Founding Fathers detested the European system where people were persecuted for political and religious reasons and tortured and imprisoned. They did not trust the government of their former ruler and wanted to create a government that did not abuse its power.

Impartial Jury Clause

"In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a . . . trial, by an impartial jury . . ."

The Founding Fathers did not trust the life and liberty of one of their fellow citizens in the hand of a single judge. They did not trust the government or judges who may be beholden to a power structure. They only trusted the life and liberty of a fellow citizen with another citizen.

Justice Byron White reminds us that "Providing an accused with the right to be tried by a jury of his peers gave him an inestimable safeguard against the corrupt overzealous prosecutor and against the compliant, biased, or eccentric judge..."

We are entitled to an impartial jury comprised of a fair cross section of the community. The jury will safeguard our rights against abuse by the government.

Accusation or Arraignment Clause

"In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall . . . be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation . . ."

The accused has a right to know the specifics of the crimes he is being accused of committing. You have a right to know who, what, when and where of the alleged crime. You have the right to mount a defense against the accusation. The government through the prosecutor must specify the elements of the crime in the accusatory instrument. This will prevent the government from maliciously prosecuting those who disagree with its political or religious beliefs.

Confrontation Clause

"In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to . . . be confronted with the witnesses against him . . ."

You have the right to a face to face confrontation and cross examination of those who would bear false witness against you in court. This is to prevent the government from using the testimony of secret witnesses to convict a citizen of a crime. You have the right to cross examine the witness in court. However, the right to confrontation has been eroded over the years as courts have allowed child witnesses to testify by close circuit television. In June 2010, the New York State Court of Appeal, the highest court in the State in a case call People v. Wooten, allowed an elderly and ill crime victim who had moved from New York to California to testify by two way live close circuit television.

Compulsory Witness Clause

"In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to . . . have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor . . ."

The compulsory witness clause allows the accused has the right to call accomplices to the stand and conduct cross examination. The compulsory witness clause also prevents the government from using an informant to provide evidence against an accused. In Rovario v. United States, 353 U.S. 53, 61 (1957), a case involving heroin smuggling, the United States Supreme Court, acknowledged the obligation of citizens to report crimes to law enforcement. The court noted that preserving the identity of citizens encourages citizens to exercise this obligation.

The court also noted that fundamental fairness requires that "Where the disclosure of an informer's identity, or of the contents of his communication, is relevant and helpful to the defense of an accused, or is essential to a fair determination of a cause, the privilege must give way."

The court went on to hold that "The problem is one that calls for balancing the public interest in protecting the flow of information against the individual's right to prepare his defense. Whether a proper balance renders nondisclosure erroneous must depend on the particular circumstances of each case, taking into consideration the crime charged, the possible defenses, the possible significance of the informer's testimony, and other relevant factors."

Therefore, the courts must balance the following factors in determining whether to keep the identify of a witness secret:

1) Nature of the crime charged;
2) Possible defenses;
3) Significance of thee informers testimony; and
4) Other relevant factors.

Right to Counsel Clause

"In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to . . . have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence."

On April 22, 1777, the framers of the New York State constitution wrote "Whereas the many tyrannical and oppressive usurpations of the King and Parliament of Great Britain on the rights and liberties of the people of the American colonies had reduced them to the necessity of introducing a government by congresses and committees, as temporary expedients, and to exist no longer than the grievances of the people should remain without redress; And whereas the congress of the colony of New York did, on the thirty-first day of May now last past, resolve as follows, viz:

"And it is further ordained, That in every trial on impeachment, or indictment for crimes or misdemeanors, the party impeached or indicted shall be allowed counsel, as in civil actions."

The right to counsel is one of the most basic and fundamental right in the American criminal justice system. You have the right to have an attorney of your own choosing. If you cannot afford an attorney the State will provide an attorney. The appointment of an attorney for you by the court does not entitle you to select a particular attorney.

You have a right to counsel at the identification stage which may take the form of a lineup, also known as an identification parade or showup. In United States v. Wade, 388 U.S. 218 (1967), the United States Supreme court held that the right to counsel attaches at the line up. In Wade, the court pointed out thatthat “A major factor contributing to the high incidence of miscarriage of justice from mistaken identification has been the degree of suggestion inherent in the manner in which the prosecution presents the suspect to witnesses for pretrial identification.”

Consequently, you want to have an attorney representing you at the earliest time that you determine that you may be a person of interest in a crime. A lay person may not be alerted to many ways that law enforcement may intentionally or unintentionally affect eyewitness identification.

If you or a love one is a person of interest to the police or has been arrested you must get immediate legal representation. For immediate legal assistance please call (718) 671-0900.