Thursday, March 3, 2011

Amendments VI, VII, VIII

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 defence.

Rights afforded in all criminal prosecutions are set forth in this amendment. Remember that we have discussed that the Constitution applies only to the federal government, unless it states otherwise. The Sixth Amendment is one of those articles that includes the States. The word "all" provides that this amendment is not only to be applied to the federal courts, but to the State, and lower, courts as well.

This article gives the accused the right to a speedy and public trial, an impartial jury, notice, to be confronted with the witnesses against him as well as obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have counsel afforded for his defense (Remember "Miranda Rights" from last week?).

Amendment VII

In suits at Common Law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

The Seventh Amendment guarantees the right to a jury trial in most civil suits heard in federal court. The goal of the amendment was to create distinction between the work of a judge and that of a jury in operation in Federal civil court. Judges were to instruct juries, determine which evidence could be legally heard, and to advise juries on matters of law. The jury needed to hear the evidence, and determine if the lawsuit brought was viable or not.

In civil court and in common law in England, on which the Seventh Amendment is based, a judge’s responsibility should not include barraging the jury with opinions about the case or instructing jurors how to rule. Both judge and jury had vital roles, which were separate and discrete, and the system worked most fairly when these roles were maintained. The framers of the constitution sought the same distinction in American courts, resulting in inclusion of the Seventh Amendment.

State courts don’t have to honor this provision in the Seventh Amendment, and often don't. People bringing a suit do not have to have a jury trial. Individuals can waive their right to a jury trial if they so choose.

The Seventh Amendment also expressly forbids federal judges to re-examine any "fact tried by a jury" except as allowed by the common law. This means that no court, trial or appellate, may overturn a jury verdict that is reasonably supported by the evidence.

Together with the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment, the Seventh Amendment guarantees civil litigants the right to an impartial jury.

Amendment VIII

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

As a nation founded on principles, the United States legal system is expected to be fair and just. This would mean that Americans should insist upon a due process that protects individuals from excesses and abuses by the judicial system. Such expectations would include that no individual should be singled out, or treated differently, in the eyes of the courts. This means that there should be no excessive bails or fines, or cruel and unusual punishment, for one person while others guilty of similar crimes do not receive similar.

A lack of specific definitions lead us to believe that it was common knowledge what would be considered as excessive, or cruel and unusual. Unfortunately, because of the lack of clear definitions, this provision has been often the subject of "interpretation."


Thank You to Faith Armory, 27498 Enterprise Circle West, #2 in Temecula, California, for the use of their classroom.

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