The Sixth Amendment
The 6th Amendment focuses completely on the rights of a person accused of committing a crime by the government. The 6th Amendment contains seven specific protections for people accused of crimes. These seven rights are: the right to a speedy trial, the right to a public trial, the right to be judged by an impartial jury, the right to be notified of the nature and circumstances of the alleged crime, the right to confront witnesses who will testify against the accused, the right to find witnesses who will speak in favor of the accused, and, the right to have a lawyer. The reasoning behind all of these protections goes back to the days of our founding fathers; when under the English law none of these rights were guaranteed. The writers of the constitution felt it was very important that all of the rights that are given under the sixth amendment were guaranteed in reaction to the blatant suppression of individual rights and liberties that were being implemented in the “colonies”. As time has passed and our constitution amended in reaction to those times, the rights guaranteed under the 6th Amendment have been strengthened and justly implemented.
The Speedy Trial Clause guarantees that you must be tried quickly if you are charged with a crime. Why was this so important that the founding fathers would add it to the Bill of Rights? Well, if you weren't guaranteed a speedy trial, you could sit in jail for months or years without being tried. That was a frequent occurrence in English history. The founding fathers wanted to protect themselves and you from this in the new government they were creating. The Speedy Trial Clause serves three main purposes - to prevent lengthy incarcerations before guilt has been determined, to minimize anxiety and concern for the accused, who may eventually be declared innocent and to reduce the possibility that long delays could impair the accused’s ability to defend themselves due to fading memories, the death of witnesses, etc. The Federal Speedy Trial Act of 1974 says that charges must be filed within 30 days of an arrest for a federal crime and a trial must commence within 70 days. If a speedy trial violation occurs, new trials are not allowed. Instead, the conviction is thrown out without the possibility of a retrial. For this reason, courts very rarely find speedy trial violations. They are not eager to see someone go free who is guilty. Even delays up to several years are often not considered to be violations of the Speedy Trial Clause by the courts.
To highlight the right to a speedy trial clause of the constitution, I wanted to highlight the case of Commonwealth v. Sandusky. This is the very well known and highly covered case of Jerry Sandusky, the former Pennsylvania State assistant football coach who was found guilty of nearly fifty counts of child sex abuse in June of 2012. What is less known, however, is just how much the sixth amendment rights to a speedy trial came into effect. Sandusky, and his lawyer, Joe Amendola, some say out of arrogance and hubris, implemented Sandusky’s sixth amendment rights to a speedy trial in an effort to catch the commonwealth off guard, unawares, and unready. The defense believed that the witnesses would be unable to testify so suddenly, and the state would not be able to present a case that proved guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Some say that Sandusky foolishly believed that the case was not provable, that he had such control and dominance over his victims that he wanted a quick trial so he could be found innocent and go on with his life. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, represented by Joseph McGettigan, proved them quite wrong. The evidence was strong, the witness consistent and quite abundant. When the defense realized their error, they threw multiple motions for a delay of trial at the prosecution, all of which were denied. After Sandusky’s subsequent conviction, the defense blamed their loss on having so little time to...
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