Some of the most important protections for people accused of crimes can be found under the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Part of the Bill of Rights, the Sixth Amendment is the cornerstone of criminal defense in our criminal justice system.
The Sixth Amendment guarantees people charged with crimes the right to a trial by jury, in most circumstances. Over the years, courts have interpreted the amendment many times, and found that this right to a trial also conveys other rights, including the defendant’s right to see all the evidence used in the case against them, to see, hear and have the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses against them, the opportunity to call their own witnesses and more.
The Sixth Amendment works together with other provisions under the Bill of Rights. For instance, the Sixth Amendment provides a defendant with the opportunity to testify at their trial, but the Fifth Amendment protects defendants from being compelled to testify against themselves. Therefore, the Sixth Amendment also provides the defendant the right to decline to testify at their own trial. Many defendants decline to testify when they know that doing so puts them at a high risk of divulging self-incriminating information.
Note that these rights apply only to defendants. Other witnesses may be compelled to testify.
It’s important for all defendants to understand their rights, and it may be even more important for them to know how to use them. One of the most important things a criminal defense attorney can do for their clients is to help them understand the strategies and techniques they can use to protect their rights and safeguard their future.