Centralized Government

Amendment Six – Rights to a Fair Trial

The Sixth Amendment guarantees a fair trial to anyone accused of a crime. The first part of the amendment states:

“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…”

Americans living the 1790’s had terrible memories of the unfair treatment of people who were accused of crimes in Europe and Colonial America. People may be arrested and then not permitted the advice of a lawyer. Sometimes a trial wasn’t held for months and the accused was in jail for all that time awaiting trial. Meanwhile, witnesses may move, and it could be more difficult for the accused to prepare any defense. When trials were held, often they were conducted in secret.

These memories of the past inspired Americans to insist upon greater protection and fairness to accused people. The writers of the Constitution had made an effort to do this, but Americans wanted assurance of even more protection. The Sixth Amendment offers this extra protection because:

  1. A speedy trial ensures there is no long period of time during which an accused person is forced to live under a cloud of suspicion.
  2. A speedy trial makes it easier for the accused to locate witnesses for the defense.
  3. A public trial helps to ensure that no unfair actions are taken by the judge or the government.
  4. An impartial jury offers hope to the accused of a fair consideration of the evidence by the jury.

The next part of the Sixth Amendment states that the accused shall:

“…be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation…”

Americans In 1791 remembered that people in Europe and in the colonies had sometimes been put on trial without knowing the charges against them. This made it nearly impossible to prepare a proper defense.

The third part of the Sixth Amendment states that the accused shall have the right to:

“…be confronted with the witnesses against him…”

The accused has a right to know who is giving testimony against him or her. There can be no “nameless or faceless” accusers in an American court under this provision. Those who testify must face the accused in the courtroom.

The fourth part of the Sixth Amendment offers the accused an important right and permits him or her to:

“… have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor…”

The court may compel witnesses favorable to the defense to testify. This is done by serving an unwilling witness with a court order call a subpoena. The subpoena makes it compulsory for the person served to testify in court.

Of course, a person who is served a subpoena is also entitled to legal protection. Such witnesses need not testify if what they say might cause them to be arrested. In this type of case they may seek protection against self-incrimination by citing the Fifth Amendment.

The final part of the Sixth Amendment states the right of the accused to:

“…have the assistance of counsel for his defense..”

This is a most important right. Lawyers are trained in the points of law and skilled in examining witnesses. They also have the skills required to cross-examine those witnesses who testify against the accused. Without a lawyer, known as counsel, the accused might not be aware of his or her rights.

Amendment Seven – Rights in Civil Cases

While the Sixth Amendment guarantees the right of trial by jury in criminal cases, the Seventh Amendment extends this right to persons involved in civil suits. It states:

“In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of a 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.”

This amendment offers the protection of a jury trial in civil cases which involve at least $20.00. Although this is a small amount by today’s standards, it was a large sum in 1791. Today, few people would seek a jury trial in a case involving $20.00. However, people involved in cases where small sums are at issue have the right to proceed without jury trial if both parties to the controversy agree. The case is then tried directly before the judge. This type of case is commonly tried in a small-claims court.

Amendment Eight – Bails, Fines, and Punishments.

The Eighth Amendment offers a special protection for people. It states:

“Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

This amendment helps to protect the accused against improper treatment. Its first provision is that there must not be excessive bail. Bail is the money or property the accused presents as a guarantee that he or she will appear for trial. Bail makes it possible for the accused to be released until a trial determines guilt or innocence. The money or property is returned when the accused appears for trial.

However, if the judge sets a very high bail, it may be impossible for the accused to produce the needed sum. Setting excessive bail has the same effect as refusing to set bail. The more serious the crime, the higher the bail that is likely to be demanded from the accused person. In murder cases, the accused is usually held without bail because the crime is so serious.

Persons found guilty of certain offenses are sometimes ordered to pay a fine or serve a jail term. In some cases, a fine is imposed in addition to a jail term. The Eighth Amendment requires that the fine imposed must be reasonable since inability to pay can lead to a jail term. The Eighth Amendment also makes cruel and unusual punishments illegal. Whippings, branding, and other forms of punishment are considered cruel and unusual. There are other examples. Perhaps a prisoner is held in solitary confinement for a very long time, or is kept on bread and water for a long period of time. Such punishments might be considered cruel and unusual. Guilty person have rights under our system of law.

Amendment Nine – Rights Retained by the People

The Ninth and Tenth Amendments deal with the “residual” or reserved powers of the people and the states.
The Ninth Amendment states:

“The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

This means that the rights listed in the Constitution are not the only rights people have. The right to engage in political activity has been cited as being protected by this amendment. Otherwise, the Ninth Amendment has not played an important part in American history. However, it stands as an example of how the American people in 1791 wanted to secure future rights.

Amendment Ten – Powers Retained by the States and the People

The Tenth Amendment was also intended to protect Americans in the future. It states:

“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”

The Constitution lists the powers delegated to the federal government. It also lists the powers denied to the federal government and the state governments. However, the Constitution does not list the powers delegated to the state governments.

The Tenth Amendment provides for state powers without specifically listing those powers. It states that all powers not given to the federal government, or denied to the states, remain with the states, or with the people. These are the “residual powers” because they reside with the states. Examples of residual powers in each state include marriage and divorce laws, education, voting requirements, and powers of safety, health, and welfare (police).

Lesson 9 Review

Directions: Answer each question below by writing a strong paragraph that includes supporting information from the lesson. Please cite your outside resources.

A strong paragraph includes a minimum of three to five details from the lesson and is written in Academic English form. For more information on Academic English form, refer to the documents in the Orientation.

1. What may be the beliefs of the persons who made each of these statements? What is meant by each of these statements?

“Justice delayed is justice denied.”

“What is the charge against me?”

“You have the right to be represented by a lawyer. If you cannot afford one, a lawyer will be provided for you.”

2. What are some examples of residual powers? Why do you think some powers are left to each state? Do you agree that some powers should remain with the states or should we have a completely centralized government?

3. Why do you think that the powers of the federal government are specifically listed and those remaining with the states are not?

4. How does poverty affect citizens and the law?

5. Why do you think many states have passed laws pertaining to sentencing guidelines?

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