The Sixth Amendment to the federal Constitution, which applies to all Colorado cases, gives the defendant the right to an attorney, the right to a speedy trial, a trial by jury, the right to subpoena defense witnesses, and the right to cross-examine the witnesses against him.
The Right to a Speedy Trail
The defendant has a right to a speedy trial, meaning that the prosecution must bring the case to trial within the prescribed time limit, or they must dismiss the case. This right may be advantageous to the defense in cases where the prosecution must develop very complicated evidence, or needs additional time to secure witnesses for trial. If the defense in a case asks for a continuance (extension of time) at any point during the progress of the case, the defense must also waive their right to a speedy trial. Simply put, you cannot ask for more time, but then demand that the case conclude by the original speedy trial deadline.
The Right to Jury Trial
The Sixth Amendment is also responsible for establishing an individual’s right to a jury trial in cases that are punishable by jail (there are some exceptions). This is an important right. The defendant usually has a right to either a trial to the judge, or to a jury. It is always to the defendant’s advantage to have a trial to a jury. There is a significant body of case law about juries. The Constitution requires that the jury be impartial, and even the attorneys are barred from removing jurors based only on matters such as race or religion.
The Right of Confrontation
The defense attorney always has a right to cross-examine the witnesses against the defendant. This is perhaps one of the most important, and most fundamental rights of all. The truth finding process would not be effective without the ability to test the credibility of each witness in what has been referred to as the “crucible” of cross-examination. Confrontation of the witness is what exposes bias, intent, and motive of the witness. It also highlights facts which are obviously false, which in turn undermines the credibility of the witness as to all other testimony they offer. It is such an important right, that generally, a witness’s statements cannot be used unless they are present for cross-examination in trial. This is why witnesses must be present during the trial in order to be heard.
The Right to Counsel
A defendant has a right to an attorney once “adversarial proceedings have begun.” This means that once there is a formal charge by the court, the defendant has the right to an attorney, and if he cannot afford one, the court must appoint one to represent him. The right to counsel also exists as soon as the defendant is in custody and being questioned by the police. Requesting an attorney is very powerful for the defendant when he is in custody. If the defendant asks for an attorney, this means that the police cannot question the defendant any further until he has been given an opportunity to speak with counsel.
Sixth Amendment Issues
The Sixth Amendment causes less courtroom litigation that the Fourth or Fifth Amendments do. This is because there is rarely an issue as to the right to counsel, or the right to have a trial by jury. Occasionally, there will be wrangling in court over the speedy trial deadline for a case, but this rarely happens, since in most cases the prosecutor will be ready to proceed to trial before the deadline, and any request for a continuance by the defense will require a waiver of the right to speedy trial. Also on occasion, the right to confront and cross-examine witnesses becomes an issue in cases where the prosecution is trying to introduce the statements of a witness who is not present at trial. However, these issues arise far less often than do issues pertaining to the Fourth and Fifth Amendments.