Prosecutor Tim Lohmar Wants You to Know Your Rights
Most Americans are aware of the First, Second, and Fifth Amendments to the US Constitution, St. Charles County Prosecuting Attorney Tim Lohmar says. Still, fewer are aware of the rights of all Americans guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment.
In case the Sixth Amendment doesn’t immediately come to mind, here’s the 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 defense.”
Let’s take a closer look at these Constitutional Rights that the Sixth Amendment guarantees.
The Constitution guarantees every defendant a speedy trial. This provision is intended to ensure that no one accused of a crime languishes in custody waiting to go to court.
But the Sixth Amendment also protects the public from the expense of maintaining a prisoner in jail. Keeping people accused of crimes on the job as long as possible may also save the state welfare payments to support the accused’s children.
Sixth Amendment protection begins as soon as someone is taken into custody. Sixth Amendment rights begin even before there is a formal charge.
Criminal defendants aren’t tried in secret (except when a FISA court determines an overwhelming need to conduct the trial secret to protect national security). The American tradition has always been to hold trials in public. However, in some cases, the defendant can request a private trial when publicizing the trial would jeopardize the right to an impartial verdict.
Trial by Jury
In the English-speaking world, a jury trial has been the norm since the Magna Carta was granted by English King John I in 1215. Jury trials protect everyone against the possibility of false accusations. Twelve jurors must agree that the defendant is guilty beyond any reasonable doubt. Trial by jury ensures that judges do not become the tool of political leaders.
A criminal defendant, however, can request a bench trial so the judge decides the verdict alone. The courts have also held that defendants don’t have a right to a jury trial when the possible penalty is less than six months in jail.
A Jury of Your Peers
The Sixth Amendment doesn’t guarantee that a grand jury considering facts involving you must be chosen from your peers. But the petit jury that decides your guilt or innocence at trial must be selected from a jury pool representing your community. If there is evidence that the court systematically attempted to exclude a particular kind of juror from the jury pool unreasonably or unfairly, you may have a cause of action.
You’re Entitled to a Lawyer
Finally, Tim Lohmar notes no one has to face a criminal trial without the benefit of legal representation. If you can’t afford a lawyer, the court will appoint a lawyer to represent you.