Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Sixth Amendment: This is how we do it

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 defense

 -the Sixth Amendment

This Amendment is all about how they'll try you if you are accused of committing a crime.  Its not so much the procedures, there are plenty of lower laws and regulations regarding that, rather it is all about the methodology that a case should take.  To be clear, in many times in the past many societies had the basic premise "Guilty until proven innocent", this is classic mob rule and the very worst examples in recent history can be found in the French Revolution and the October 1917 Revolution.  You are guilty because we accuse you.  Even the current 24 hours news cycle is guilty of this.  If we are to be a nation of Laws, and Rights, perhaps one of the hardest Rights to maintain will be those of the accused. To be clear this deals only with criminal cases, so all the rights outlined herein, well you can pretty much kiss them goodbye in a civil case. 

Now the first part, "the right to a speedy and public trial".  There is a slight problem with this clause.  What exactly is speedy?  Is it the length of time it takes to bring the case to trial?  It is the length of time it takes from the start of proceedings to verdict?  For most it is assumed that Speedy is the amount of time which it takes from arrest till the beginning of the trial.  If that is the case then we are woefully failing in this regard.  It is prejudicial to any defendant to spend long periods of time in prison, if the defendant is innocent, then Jobs will be lost, and potential future work will also be curtailed, also the fees for retaining a lawyer (any halfway decent one anyway) can be ruinous.  It is my belief that a person should spend no more than 4 months in Jail waiting their trial, and that Bond proceedings should be commenced as soon as possible.  You can decide right away that the defendant is a flight risk and deny bond but they need to have their case heard ASAP.  It is also my belief that unless the Defense lawyer questions every single piece of evidence, and brings mountains motions, the trial itself should never take more than 6 months.  If you're sitting in a Courtroom for 10 hours a day five days a week, there is no reason it shouldn't be wrapped up quickly.  Again though, what "speedy" is was never defined. 

Also lets be clear that "public" means that it is open to the public to a degree.  You can not bar observers, though for obvious reasons there might be reason not to broadcast all trials over the news.  The aim of having a case with impartial witnesses should be painfully obvious, but the founders were wary of backroom deals where the courts were concerned.  This way everyone knows who is accused and what actions are taken in the court room. 

The next part about having an Impartial Jury, well its a nice sentiment but its nearly impossible to find a person who hasn't heard of this crime or that.  Also interestingly enough some Juries have fallen sway to the CSI effect.  In essence they believe that the Forensic team should be able to piece together the whole crime from two hair fibers.  This isn't the case and that juries have let people go on this belief only proves some people are idiots.  But why would you want the Jury to be from the same place where the crime was committed.  The Wronged community certainly couldn't be expected to be impartial could they?  Well what would happen if offender Joe steals from Jane.  Jane lives in say Orange County California.  Joe is from say Geary County Kansas.  it would make no sense to cart 12 people from Kansas for who knows how long to Orange County.  But also, what are the chances if Joe were say a local well to do in Geary County that he couldn't stack the Jury with his friends?

The next part is pretty standard.  It would be a complete show trial if you were not informed of what you are accused of.  Even if you're stark raving mad they still have to tell you what you're charged with.  Also having the ability to cross examine witnesses is vital.  There are no cases that I can think of where you might be denied the opportunity to cross examine a witness or provide one of your own, and this very thing is what separates America from places like Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany, or a dozen other extremes.  You can not be tried for a criminal case in absentia, which even the European Union does.  Lastly you will be provided assistance with a Lawyer if you need it.  This means the Tax payers are out the Lawyering fees, but in my opinion it is a price well worth it to prevent kangaroo courts. 

My take is this: You may not know this one but you have seen it play out on TV court room dramas.  This is one only professionals tend to worry about, but you the citizen should get aquainted with it real quick should you ever be arrested and accused of a serious crime.  Knowing your rights inside a courtroom are just as important as knowing them outside.  Keep it in your back pocket and pray you never need it, but if you do, KNOW YOUR RIGHTS!!!

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