Jury Trials ‒ The Right to a Speedy, Public Trial by Jury
The 6th Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees that “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury…”
If you are facing a criminal trial, a criminal defense attorney can explain your criminal rights. Connect with an attorney today. Simply fill out the free online evaluation form on this page or call 877-445-1059.
Although the United States Constitution guarantees the right to a “speedy” trial, there is no universal definition of a “speedy trial”. Some jurisdictions have created statutory limitations within which a criminal case must pass through the system, and in some that time frame is different for incarcerated defendants than it is for those who are free on bail or their own recognizance.
Where specific time requirements are provided, cases may be subject to dismissal simply because the specified time has elapsed, although there are exceptions for certain situations involving good cause or delays occurring at the request of the defendant.
In jurisdictions without specific statutory or judicial time limitations, courts generally consider the length of the delay, the reason for the delay, the defendant’s assertion of his right to a speedy trial, and any prejudice caused by the delay. Although not one of the official factors set forth by the United States Supreme Court, as a practical matter, the seriousness of the charges generally impacts the trial judge’s analysis.
Trial by Jury
“All criminal prosecutions” has been interpreted to exclude “petty offenses”. There is no universal definition as to what constitutes a petty offense, but there is a clear guideline on what is not: any crime that may be punished by imprisonment for more than six months triggers the right to trial by jury, regardless of the nature of the offense.
By tradition, criminal proceedings require a unanimous verdict from a jury of 12. However, the Supreme Court has approved decisions by some states to accept verdicts that are not unanimous, and by other states to reduce the number of jurors to 6. The two cannot be combined, though ‒ a jury of 6 must return a unanimous verdict.
The make-up of the jury pool is critical, too. The Supreme Court has ruled that an “impartial jury” necessarily means that jurors are chosen from a pool representing a cross-section of the community ‒ for instance, no one may be excluded on the basis of race or sex.
Recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions have extended the right to trial by jury to the determination of certain facts used as a basis for sentence enhancement.
The right to a public trial is intended to ensure the integrity of the legal process. When community members, friends and family of the accused, and even the media are in the courtroom, it serves as a check to make sure that all rights and appropriate processes are observed.
Like the restrictions on excessive bail, the provision grew out of a history of abuse by the sovereign to apply pressure or settle personal vendettas. For that reason, the right is considered a fundamental aspect of the criminal justice process, and can be abridged only in very limited circumstances. For instance, juvenile cases are typically conducted in “closed” courtrooms in order to protect the privacy of the child involved.
Notice of Accusation
A defendant has the right to be informed of the nature and cause of the charges against him or her. Any criminal indictment must state the nature, including the degree of the crime, in a manner that is express and direct.
A vaguely written law may violate this clause in the Sixth Amendment, and charges could be dropped if a statute or indictment is ambiguous.
Right to Confront Witnesses
A clause in the Sixth Amendment gives defendants the right to face their accusers in court. This right extends to cross-examining those providing testimony as witnesses in court.
The Confrontation Clause, as it is known, is rooted in the common law practice of disallowing hearsay as grounds for a conviction in a trial.
Although there are some circumstances in which testimony taken before a trial, such as in a police investigation or preliminary hearing, may be allowed, the prosecution is obligated to bring any available witnesses to the court to testify under oath.
During a cross-examination, a criminal defense attorney will be able to question the testimony, and may question the witness’s memory of an event or credibility as a witness.
This is often a critical step in establishing guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the threshold that must be met in a criminal trial.
Discuss Your Trial with a Criminal Defense Attorney
If you are facing a criminal trial, you can learn more about the process by speaking with a local criminal defense attorney. Simply fill out our free online evaluation form or call 877-445-1059 today to arrange a no-obligation consultation.
The above summary of trial by jury is by no means all-inclusive and is not legal advice. For the latest information on this topic, speak to a criminal defense attorney in your area.