The “right to a speedy trial” is grounded in the Sixth Amendment. But this amendment provides much more than a requirement that the government not unduly delay a criminal trial. Below we break down the protections that this important part of the Bill of Rights includes.
- The right to a speedy and public trial. In undemocratic legal systems courts are often used as a tool of political oppression. Holding a person in custody indefinitely “pending trial” is one way that the government can effectively imprison a person without ever having a trial. The Sixth Amendment ensures that in New Jersey and elsewhere in the United States these forms of judicial abuse are proscribed.
- The right to a trial by an impartial jury. Criminal trials must be decided by a jury, and not by a judge alone. This is a safeguard against Star Chamber-style proceedings, in which judges appointed by and acting on behalf of the government can deny the right of the accused to an adequate defense.
- The right to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation. The Sixth Amendment requires the government to let you know what it is accusing you of, so that you and your defense counsel can prepare a defense accordingly.
- The right to confront witnesses against you. Another way for the government to abuse the system of justice is to use “secret” witnesses or hearsay testimony. The Sixth Amendment preserves your right to know who the government’s witnesses are, and to challenge them directly. Note, though, that in some limited circumstances, such as child victims of sexual abuse, the right to face-to-face confrontation of prosecution witnesses may be curtailed.
- The right to present witnesses in defense. The ability to conduct an effective defense depends on right of the defendant to call upon witnesses. The Sixth Amendment safeguards this right, and even provides the compulsory ability to make such witnesses available if need be.
- The right to defense counsel. The right to an attorney before trial is protected by the Fifth Amendment. The Sixth Amendment extends your right to an attorney into the conduct of the criminal trial.
In summation, the Sixth Amendment gives criminal defense attorneys a set of tools to ensure that your rights are preserved not only when you are arrested but also when you are being held in custody pending trial and during trial.
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