Sixth Amendment Law and Legal Definition

The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees a criminal defendant a right to an impartial jury of peers, have a speedy public trial, confront witnesses, be informed about pending charges, and be represented by counsel.

The rights guaranteed under the amendment are not absolute. The right to a jury trial isn't guaranteed in all cases, such as for a petty offense punishable by less than six months. Defendants may choose to represent themselves in court, but the court may deny this choice if they consider that the defendant is incompetent to waive the right to counsel. The defendant must also be permitted to call witnesses in his favor. If such witnesses refuse to attend, they may be compelled to do so by the court at the request of the defendant. However, there are cases when witnesses may be excluded, such as when they are not disclosed for tactical advantage. Also, a trial may be closed to the public in the interest of a narrowly tailored, overriding government interest.

The Supreme Court has never explicitly ruled that some particular time limit must apply top the right to a speedy trial. Some state speedy trial statutes, which vary by state, define a time limit for bringing trial. A reversal or dismissal of a criminal case on speedy trial grounds means that no further prosecution for the alleged offense can occur. Trials must take place in districts specified by statute, which is the place where the offense is charged to have occurred, or where multiple districts are alleged to have been locations of the crime, any of them may be chosen for the trial.

The Sixth Amendment states as follows:

"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. "