The main text of the U.S. Constitution mostly sets out how power is divided between the three branches of the federal government. That leaves the Bill of Rights to guarantee many of our most important individual rights.
When it comes to your rights in the criminal justice system, the Sixth Amendment contains several key counterbalances to the massive power of the government to investigate, arrest and imprison individuals. As a law firm, we love to point out that the Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to an attorney, regardless of ability to pay, but the amendment contains other rights too.
Besides the right to counsel (which applies beginning in the interrogation phase of a police investigation), among the important rights U.S. citizens enjoy thanks to the Sixth Amendment are:
- (Usually) the right to a jury trial.
- The right to be present at your trial and while the jury is hearing the case.
- The chance to confront all witnesses against you, and see and hear their testimony.
- The right not to testify, if you do not wish.
- The right to call witnesses in your defense, and to have subpoenas issued to compel witnesses to appear if necessary.
- The right to cross-examine witnesses for the prosecution.
- The right to compel prosecutors to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt.
As readers can see from this list, the Sixth Amendment is a very important part of the law, but it is not the sole defender of individual liberties. We will discuss other amendments in the Bill of Rights in future blog posts.