Reading through the Constitution is back. I took a break because Sundays are so hectic and, frankly, only a few hundred people seem to like these posts! I, however, love studying the Constitution and am flabbergasted at the ignorance of (or outright contempt for) the document.
So, this week we come to the 6th and 7th Amendments, which read:
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.
and the 7th reads:
In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
As we have seen, many of the provisions of the Bill of Rights were responses to abuses by the British government. The English Crown often jailed people without granting them access to the courts and, even when they did grant them a hearing, the judges were not impartial. Thus, the Bill of Rights granted the accused a speedy trial and the right to be judged by an impartial jury in a public trial at the area where the crime was committed. The accused does not have to be judged by a jury. Some lawyers argue that judges are better at judging criminal cases but the right to have one if one so chooses was an important step in moving the criminal justice system forward.
The accused was also given the right to face his accusers, which, believe it or not, was not always the case! The right has been interpreted to mean the accused must have the ability to challenge the credibility and reliability of any witness against him. This clause ties in with the speedy trial clause because memories fade!
The right to counsel was another break from British law where attorneys were usually only afforded to defendants when disputed points of law arose.
The right to jury was also maintained for civil suits as well.
The problem today is that speedy trials are rare because court dockets are so packed with cases. The Supreme Court has even ruled that 5 years from indictment to trial was acceptable! I am not a fan of spending more tax money but it seems to me that we actually do need more courts in order to truly guarantee the right to a speedy and fair trial.
Next week, we will look at the 8th Amendment and ask what qualifies as cruel and unusual punishment.
Until then, grace and peace.