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U.S. Constitution: Sixth Amendment

The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution addresses the right of the accused, including the right to a trial by an impartial jury, the right to know about the crime for which you have been accused, the right to legal counsel, and related rights. The text of the amendment itself is just one sentence, but has generated quite a bit of case law in the state and federal courts. Some of the cases involving the Sixth Amendment have significantly expanded its reach; for instance, the right to legal counsel has been expanded to cover the following:

  • The interrogation phase of a criminal investigation
  • The trial itself
  • Sentencing
  • At least an initial appeal of any conviction

Perhaps the most well-known U.S. Supreme Court case considering the rights conferred under the Sixth Amendment is Gideon v. Wainwright (1963). That case ruled that the right to counsel guaranteed under the federal Constitution also applies to the states (via the Fourteenth Amendment).

The petitioner in that case, Clarence Earl Gideon, was charged with felony breaking and entering in Florida. He was too poor to afford a defense attorney, so he asked the judge to appoint an attorney on his behalf. At the time, Florida only offered court-appointed attorneys for indigent defendants in capital cases. The Supreme Court overturned that ruling, setting a precedent among all state courts.

Amendment Text

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 defence.

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If you're facing criminal charges, it's important to understand all of your rights and, even more important, how to exercise them. Often times, if you fail to properly raise a right during the process you could inadvertently waive that right. To avoid this outcome, and to ensure that your rights are fully protected, consider getting a free review of your case by an experienced criminal defense attorney.

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