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Sixth Amendment

The Sixth Amendment was part of the Bill of Rights that was added to the Constitution on December 15, 1791. This amendment provides a number of rights people have when they have been accused of a crime. These rights are to ensure that a person gets a fair trial including a speedy and public trial, an impartial jury, a notice of accusation, a confrontation of witnesses, and the right to a lawyer. We'll discuss each of these in more detail below.

From the Constitution

Here is the text of the Sixth Amendment from the Constitution:

"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."

Speedy Trial

One of the first requirements of the Sixth Amendment is that people have a right to a speedy trial. How fast is speedy? Well, the law doesn't say. What this means is that the government shouldn't needlessly delay the trial. They can't hold someone in jail while purposely delaying a trial. Some trials still take a long time for various reasons.

Public Trial

The amendment next says that the accused will have a "public" trial. This is to keep the government from having secret trials away from the eyes of the public. This happened under the rule of the British and the Founding Fathers didn't want this to occur under the new government. Public trials can help to ensure that government officials are following the law.

Impartial Jury

The right to a trial by jury is guaranteed in the Sixth Amendment. This only applies, however, to serious offenses where the punishment is more than six months in prison. The jury must also be impartial. This means that each of the jurors is unbiased. To help make sure the jurors are impartial, the lawyers from each side get to interview potential jurors and choose who becomes a part of the jury.

Notice of Accusation

The amendment requires that the person will be told what crime they are charged with. This is called a "notice of accusation." This sounds obvious to us, but without this requirement the government could lock up people for years without ever telling them what they did wrong. This happened under British rule and still occurs today in some countries.


In order to make trials as fair as possible, the people who say they witnessed the crime must testify in court. This gives the person accused of the crime (or their lawyer) the chance to question and "confront" them.

Assistance of Counsel

The last part of the amendment guarantees the defendant a lawyer or "assistance of counsel." If the person cannot afford their own lawyer, the government will provide a lawyer. These lawyers are called public defenders.

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