What is the Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution?

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  • Written By: Matthew F.
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 29 September 2019
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The Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution establishes rights for defendants in criminal cases. It is sometimes known as the right to a speedy trial, and also ensures a public trial, an impartial jury, favorable witnesses, and the right to counsel. The Sixth Amendment is a part of the Bill of Rights and the original Constitution created in 1787 and ratified in 1788. It has taken part in many important cases in the history of the United States, including Miranda v. Arizona and Roe v. Wade.

The Sixth Amendment was established by the writers of the Constitution as a means to a fair and legal proceeding through the justice system, and is regarded as an essential freedom because of its spot in the Bill of Rights. The right of a speedy and public trial in the sixth amendment sets precedence for the length of delay in a criminal proceeding, though no official restriction has ever been set. The delay is measured from the time of arrest or indictment. Reasonable and fair reasons for delay are excused and allowed, and a delay cannot be exercised to benefit the defendant or the prosecution. Public trial is also guaranteed, open to the media and the community, except in special cases where closure would help ensure a more fair trial.


The right to a jury is another guarantee of the Sixth Amendment. This right provided for a 12-person jury in all criminal proceedings, though they are waived in some situations, such as petty crimes. Many of the rights relevant to this section were further complimented and amended by the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868, and it’s Due Process clause.

The Sixth Amendment also provides for a notice of accusation. This notice, not necessarily in written words, is simply the practice of informing the defendant of the charge leveled against them. The notice of accusation must include all aspects of the charge, and enough description of the crime accused that the defendant would not be able to charge double jeopardy on the court if prosecuted for a similar or related crime.

The Sixth Amendment continues its defense of the rights of the accused by allowing for an opportunity to cross-examine witnesses brought forward by both the defense and the prosecution. It prohibits the admission of hearsay in a case, and also gives the defendant the opportunity to inspect or examine physical evidence for its relevance to a case and its integrity in the investigation. Finally, the Sixth Amendment allows for the right to defense counsel in all circumstances, and gives the accused the right to represent themselves if they so wish.


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Post 2

In many older societies, the policy was, and sometimes still is "guilty until proven innocent." The person being tried was unjustly treated as a criminal and sometimes wouldn't even know the charges leveled against them. With the Bill of Rights came a necessary change to court proceedings, and the accused were "innocent until proven guilty." This system forces the charges to be read and the accused to be treated with respect.

Post 1

The original system of checks and balances was effective, but nevertheless allowed for a little too much power to potentially be vested in the judicial system of the Supreme Court. With this amendment, trials were required to be fair at any cost, and the other branches of the federal government are there to ensure that it is followed.

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