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U.S. News
6: Trial by jury

Wednesday, November 27, 2002

SIXTH AMENDMENT (1791)

When the Constitution went to the ratifying conventions of the 13 states, the sanctity of a trial by jury was so fundamental to western thought that it was included in the original articles without a second thought. Still, the details, beyond a guarantee of a trial by jury, were missing. Little wonder that in each state, legislators fretted about protecting it beyond reach. Abraham Holmes of Massachusetts was one of them. "The mode of trial," he said of the document before him, "is altogether indetermined; whether the criminal is to be allowed the benefit of counsel; whether he is to be allowed to meet his accuser face to face; whether he is to be allowed to confront the witnesses, and have the advantage of cross-examination, we are not yet told."

The right to a jury trial is part of the everyday routine at the Allegheny County Courthouse. On Aug. 7, Richard Morris, right, with defense lawyer Robert Stewart at his side, sat across the table from prosecutor Ed Borkowski as prospective jurors were sworn in to hear Morris' trial on charges that he killed his girlfriend. Morris later pleaded guilty before the trial began. The jurors were sent back to their roles as private citizens.


Amendment VI: 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.


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