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Sixth Amendment

The Sixth Amendment provides rights and protections to people accused of crimes. These include the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury; the right to be informed of the charges; the right to confront adverse witnesses, and the right to counsel.

1791Bill Of Rights Ratified

By Dec. 15, three-fourths of the states ratify the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the Constitution. The amendments are meant to secure individual liberties and to maintain the balance of power between the federal government and the states. The 10th Amendment states that powers not delegated to the federal government belong to the states. Although not specified in the 10th Amendment, the U.S. Supreme Court rules in years to come that laws affecting family relations, commerce within a state’s borders, and local law enforcement fall within state authority.

1791Sixth Amendment Is Ratified

The Sixth Amendment is ratified as part of the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution. The amendment guarantees the rights of the accused in criminal prosecutions.

1870Women Allowed To Sit On Grand Jury In Wyoming

A Wyoming court allows women to sit on grand juries, finding that their service will “give them the best possible opportunities to aid in suppressing the dens of infamy which curse the country.”

1876Court Explains Purpose Of Right To Be Informed

In United States v. Cruikshank, the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down a 16-count indictment against people accused of violating the 1870 Civil Rights Act, a law designed to protect recently freed African Americans. The Court explains that the Sixth Amendment right to “be informed” has two purposes: (1) for the defendant to be able to defend himself or herself against specific charges and (2) for the court to know if there is enough evidence to convict the defendant. The Court says the charges in this case were not specific enough and, therefore, violated the Sixth Amendment. If not for this right, then anyone could be indicted on the basis of vague accusations.

1880Race Bias In Jury Selection Ruled Unconstitutional

In Strauder v. West Virginia, the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down a West Virginia law excluding African American men from juries.

1895Testimony Of Dead Witnesses Allowable

In Mattox v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that it was not a violation of the Sixth Amendment to allow testimony of two witnesses who died before the trial. The testimony was made under oath and written down by a court official, and the witnesses had been cross-examined. The court rules that this is enough to satisfy the goals of the confrontation clause.

1896Court Finds Limits On Right To Be Informed

In Rosen v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to “be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation” was not violated when the charge against him – sending obscene material through the mail – did not include a description of each image that was alleged to be obscene. The Court rules that it was not critical to helping with his defense at the lower court and also notes that he never raised the issue in his original trial. As long as he and the lower court were clear on the charges, then his rights were not violated.

1898Court Decides Jury Must Have 12 People

In Thompson v. Utah, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that, just as in England, a jury must have 12 people when someone is charged with a serious crime.

1899Testimony From Another Trial Is Inadmissible

In Kirby v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the conviction of a defendant for involvement in a theft. To prove guilt, the prosecution had to show that the defendant knew the items were stolen at the time that he received the goods, but at the trial, the prosecution produced only the theft convictions of three men at a related trial. The Court finds such evidence violates the Sixth Amendment’s confrontation clause.

1900Witness Must Be Present At Trial

At trial, a witness’s statement from a preliminary hearing was read into evidence. The trial results in a conviction. In Motes v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court reverses the defendants’ conviction. The Court rules that if the absence of the witness is not due to his or her death, and is in no way the fault of the defendants, then introduction of that witness’s prior testimony violates the Sixth Amendment.

1905Justices Say ‘Speedy’ Depends On Circumstances

In Beavers v. Haubert, the U.S. Supreme Court holds that “speedy” when referring to the Sixth Amendment right to a speedy and public trial does not always mean right away. There may be reasons for some delays.

1930Defendants Can Give Up Right To Jury Trial

In Patton v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court decides that defendants can give up their right to a jury trial, and choose to have the judge alone decide their guilt or innocence. This choice must be made with the understanding of what they are giving up (that is, it must be an “intelligent” or “knowing” choice). In the federal courts and in some state courts, the prosecution and the judge also must agree not to have a jury.

1930Court Holds Right To Jury Trial Depends On Crime

In District of Columbia v. Colts, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that even though the Sixth Amendment does not make distinctions among trials for different offenses, the right to a jury trial may not apply if the offense is a small one. In 1937, in District of Columbia v. Clawans, the justices will rule that it is unconstitutional to deny a jury trial to a defendant who faces 90 days in jail – 90 days, they decide, is a serious enough punishment to require a jury trial.

1942Attorney With Conflicts Cannot Give Effective Counsel

In Glasser v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court reverses the conviction of a defendant, Mr. Glasser, whose attorney, on the first day of trial, was also appointed to represent Mr. Kretske, a co-defendant. However, certain evidence that was favorable to Mr. Glasser’s defense incriminated Mr. Kretske. The Court rules that under those circumstances, their attorney could not put on the best defense possible for Mr. Glasser for fear of putting Mr. Kretske at risk of conviction. The Court concludes that Mr. Glasser’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel was violated.

1948Appeals Court Can Review Only Original Charges, Evidence

In Cole v. Arkansas, the U.S. Supreme Court reverses a state court that convicted four defendants for violating a particular provision of an Arkansas law, Section 2. When they appealed, the state appeals court decided the defendants deserved to be convicted under a different provision, Section 1, even though the defendants had never been charged with violating Section 1. The justices rule that this decision violated the defendants’ Sixth Amendment right to know all the charges against them so they can put on a complete defense.

1948Justices Say Jury Verdict Must Be Unanimous

In Andres v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that when a defendant is found guilty of first-degree murder in a federal court, the jury verdict must be unanimous.

1954Court: ‘Impartial’ Means No Outside Pressure On Jurors

In Remmer v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that when a juror has been the target of an attempted bribe, a defendant’s right to an impartial jury is violated because even an unsuccessful bribe can influence a juror’s decision.

1957Delay Caused By Mistake Not Unconstitutional

In Pollard v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court concludes that in cases in which a delay in sentencing a defendant did not happen on purpose, but by accident, and where it was quickly taken care of, the Sixth Amendment has not been violated.

1961Pretrial Publicity Can Jeopardize Right To Impartial Jury

If there has been an excessive amount of press coverage or other publicity before a defendant goes to trial, it may not be possible to find people to serve on a jury who have not prejudged the case. In Irvin v. Dowd, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that a criminal defendant is entitled to have a trial relocated to another community to make sure that the jury will be impartial.

1963Right To Counsel For Indigent Extended To States

In Gideon v. Wainwright, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously extends to state court trials the rule it established for federal court trials nearly 30 years earlier in Johnson v. Zerbst: The Sixth and 14th Amendments guarantee indigent defendants the right to have an attorney appointed, at the government’s expense, if they are charged with a serious crime. In 1972, in Argersinger v. Hamlin, the Court will extend the Gideon rule to defendants charged with a misdemeanor and facing jail time.

1964Counsel Must Be Present At Questioning Before Suspect Charged

Expanding upon its ruling in Massiah v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court rules in Escobedo v. Illinois that the Sixth Amendment right to counsel applies to interrogations of suspects before they have been charged with any particular crime.

1965Exclusion Of Jurors Based On Race Unconstitutional

In Swain v. Alabama, the U.S. Supreme Court holds that prosecutors cannot use peremptory challenges to exclude jurors of a particular race (as it had ruled earlier about ethnic groups). The Court sets rules for proving that jurors have been stricken because of their race. Having few or no minority jurors is not proof enough. It is necessary to show that minority jurors in a certain community have been excluded over a series of trials or over a period of years before a constitutional violation can be found. The Court’s 1994 ruling in J.E.B v. Alabama extends this provision to sex as well as race.

1966‘Speed’ Not Only Factor For Fair Proceeding

In United States v. Ewell, the U.S. Supreme Court again says that “speedy” is a relative term. In Ewell, the defendants had been indicted on certain drug charges, then convicted and sentenced. When the defendants appealed, the original indictments were thrown out because they were not prepared correctly. Nineteen months after the original indictments, the government brought new, corrected indictments on the same charges. The Court finds that this 19-month delay is not a violation of the Sixth Amendment’s speedy trial right because the defendants were not just sitting in prison; they were using the court system to be heard. The Court rules that rushing that process would be just as damaging as intentionally delaying it.

1966‘You Have The Right To Remain Silent…’

In Miranda v. Arizona, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination is not limited to in-court testimony, but also applies when a person is taken into police custody for questioning. The Court also rules that criminal suspects must be told of their Sixth Amendment right to an attorney. Once a person “indicates in any manner that he does not wish to be interrogated,” the police must stop asking questions – even if the person has answered questions up to that point, the Court says.

These mandatory statements by police have become known as Miranda rights or Miranda warning, and the process of informing a person of these rights has become known as Mirandizing.

1967Defense Attorney Required To Follow Through On Appeal

In Anders v. California, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that counsel appointed to represent a criminal defendant must “support his client’s appeal to the best of his ability.” The Court finds that this constitutional obligation was violated when the defense counsel appointed to represent the defendant on appeal simply submitted a letter to the court expressing his opinion that the appeal had no merit, and withdrew from the case. The Court rules that the defense attorney has a duty to fully investigate the case’s merits and fully justify his reasons for refusing to file an appeal. In addition, the defendant should have an opportunity to rebut the attorney’s arguments, and the appeals court should have the leeway to reject the attorney’s arguments, to permit the appeal, and to appoint new counsel.

1967Speedy Trial Guarantee Applies To States

In Klopfer v. North Carolina, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the Sixth Amendment’s right to a speedy trial is so fundamental that it applies to trials in state courts as well as those in federal courts.

1967Right to Counsel Applies At Pretrial Identification Lineup

In two companion cases, United States v. Wade and Gilbert v. California, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the Sixth Amendment prohibits the prosecution from introducing evidence that a defendant was identified in a lineup unless the defendant’s attorney was present. The Court bases its decision on the fact that an identification of a suspect is a “critical stage” of the trial process and therefore a defendant is entitled to the protections that a lawyer can provide.

1968‘Risk Of Death’ Can’t Be Price Of Right To Jury Trial

In United States v. Jackson, the U.S. Supreme Court strikes the death penalty from the federal kidnapping law because, as written, the law allows the death penalty to be imposed only by a jury. If the case is tried before a judge, the sentence of death is not allowed. The Court concludes that this provision is unconstitutional because it forces defendants to give up their right to a jury trial to avoid the death penalty.

1968Outside Statement Of Co-Defendant Is Unconstitutional

In Bruton v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the Sixth Amendment’s confrontation clause was violated when the prosecution, at a trial of two co-defendants, introduces testimony about the oral confession of one (Mr. Evans) that implicated the other (Mr. Bruton). Mr. Evans decided not to take the stand as a witness – exercising his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination – and so Mr. Bruton was not able to cross-examine Mr. Evans about his confession.

1968Court: Right To Impartial Jury Applies To State Trials

In Duncan v. Louisiana, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury applies to state as well as federal trials. However, the Court allows states to change their jury rules for different kinds of criminal cases depending on whether the trial is for a serious crime.

1968Reservations About Death Penalty Should Not Bar One From Jury

A person who expresses reservations about the death penalty is not necessarily unfit to serve on a jury, the U.S. Supreme Court rules in Witherspoon v. Illinois. The Court holds that a prosecutor can “strike” a person from the jury “for cause” (that is, because of indications that the person cannot be fair) only if the potential juror cannot make an impartial decision about imposing the death penalty.

1970Six-Month Sentence Triggers Right To A Jury Trial

In Baldwin v. New York, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that for any criminal trial in which the potential sentence is six months or longer, a defendant has a right to a jury trial.

1970Use Of Witness’s Prior Testimony Is Upheld

In California v. Green, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that it does not violate a defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights to allow into evidence a prior sworn statement that a witness gave at a preliminary hearing. The witness appeared at trial but was unable to give clear testimony about his earlier statement. Citing its 1895 opinion in Mattox v. United States, the Court allows the witness’s statement to come into evidence. The Court finds that the witness’s inability to remember key facts makes him just as unhelpful as a dead witness. But, like the testimony allowed in the Mattox case, since “it had been given under oath and the witness had been cross-examined by the defendant’s lawyer,” it was allowed.

1970Out-Of-Court Statement Can Be Admitted Into Evidence

In Dutton v. Evans, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that a Georgia trial court did not violate the confrontation clause when it permitted a witness to testify at the trial of one defendant, Mr. Evans, about a comment made by Mr. Evans’ co-defendant while both were in a holding cell together. Because the comment was not “crucial” or “devastating” evidence against Mr. Evans, and because he was able to cross-examine the witness about his conversation with the co-defendant, the Court concludes the jury had “a satisfactory basis for evaluating the truth” of the statement, and therefore, the Sixth Amendment’s confrontation clause was not violated.

1972Due Process Violated By Unclear State Law

In Rabe v. Washington, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the due process clause of the 14th Amendment (which guarantees the right to a fair hearing that follows the rules) is violated when a state law fails to explain exactly what conduct is prohibited. In Rabe, the defendant was convicted under Washington’s obscenity law after he showed an X-rated movie at his drive-in theater. The trial court concluded that the movie was not technically “obscene.” However, the fact that the movie was shown at a drive-in – making it visible to viewers other than consenting adults – made it illegal. The justices reverse the conviction, finding that the state’s obscenity law makes no distinction between obscene material that is shown in private and material that is shown in public.

Although this case does not directly involve a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to be informed of charges, it shows the importance of people having a right to know what conduct is considered criminal.

1972Justices Relax Requirement On Unanimous Verdicts

In Apodaca v. Oregon, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that although the Sixth Amendment requires unanimous decisions for guilty verdicts in federal trials, it allows state courts to decide whether unanimity is required.

1972Court Clarifies What ‘Speedy Trial’ Means

In Barker v. Wingo, the U.S. Supreme Court concludes there is no set amount of time for a trial to qualify as “speedy.” Instead, the court rules that a number of factors must be used to decide whether the Sixth Amendment right was violated: (1) length of the delay, (2) reason for the delay, (3) the defendant’s request for the right (that is, did he or she protest during the delay), and (4) whether the delay hurt the defendant’s ability to receive a fair trial. For example, even a short delay might be unconstitutional if the trial was delayed on purpose and, as a result, a defendant’s opportunity to defend himself or herself has been harmed (for example, if an important witness dies during the delay). A longer delay might not be a violation because it was by accident or due to uncontrollable events (like a full court calendar) and because no witnesses or evidence have been lost during the delay. The court hearing the speedy trial claim has to look at all the factors and balance them to reach a fair outcome.

1973In Certain Cases, Potential Jurors Must Be Questioned On Racial Bias

In Ham v. South Carolina, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that where racial prejudices of jurors could affect the outcome of the trial because of the nature of the charges involved, the Sixth Amendment’s “impartial jury” requirement demands questioning of jurors about potential racial bias.

1973Violation Of Quick Trial Right Means Case Dismissal

In Strunk v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that if the Sixth Amendment’s speedy trial right is violated, then the Court must dismiss the indictment against the defendant or reverse the conviction. This means that even if a defendant is guilty of the crime, a violation of the speedy trial right demands that he or she be set free.

1974Federal Speedy Trial Act Passed

To ease the backlog of federal court cases, Congress enacts the Speedy Trial Act of 1974, which establishes specific time limits between various stages of criminal proceedings. For example, the act requires an information or indictment to be filed within 30 days of a defendant’s arrest. The law exempts certain types of delays. For example, a delay caused by the unavailability of a key witness would be exempt.

1975Juries Must Be Drawn From Fair Cross Section Of Community

In Taylor v. Louisiana, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the Sixth Amendment requires that a jury be drawn from a representative cross section of the community where the crime was committed. In this case, the Court rules the requirement was violated because women were excluded from the jury pool.

1975Counsel Cannot Be Forced On A Defendant

In Faretta v. California, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that although the Sixth Amendment requires appointment of counsel for those who cannot afford one, it does not allow a state to force a defendant to accept an attorney if he wishes to represent himself. As long as the defendant shows that he is literate, competent, and understands the effects of choosing to give up the right to have an attorney appointed, the Court finds that the Constitution allows self-representation. After all, the Court notes, the Constitution protects the rights of the defendant, not the attorney.

1977Type Of Questioning That Triggers Right To Counsel Widened

In Brewer v. Williams, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the Sixth Amendment right to counsel applies not only when police formally interrogate suspects but also when they casually speak with the defendant and intentionally discuss topics that they know are likely to provoke the defendant to make incriminating statements. In this case, the defendant was in custody for allegedly kidnapping a 10-year-old girl, and police knew that the defendant was deeply religious. While taking the defendant from court to jail, and without counsel present, the police told the defendant that the girl’s parents deserved to give her a “Christian burial.” The Court rules that the defendant’s incriminating statements about the location of the body could not be admitted at trial because they were the result of unconstitutional questioning.

1978Limits Put On Right To Information In Trials

In Nixon v. Warner Communications Inc., the U.S. Supreme Court rejects an argument by ABC, CBS, NBC and other broadcasters that they are entitled under the Sixth Amendment to obtain complete copies of audiotapes made by the Nixon White House. The tapes, made in the Oval Office, recorded conversations that were used as evidence in the Watergate prosecutions of high-level White House officials. Only certain parts had been played for the jury and introduced as evidence. The broadcasters wanted all of the tapes to be released so they could report on the parts that had not been made public. The Court says the guarantee to a public trial only goes as far as what the reporters saw and heard at the trial.

1979Court Defines Underrepresentation In Jury Pool

In Duren v. Missouri, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that in order to show that a jury pool is not a fair cross section of the community because one or more groups has been excluded, a defendant must show that (1) the excluded group can be easily identified in the community; (2) the number of group members in the jury pool is unreasonably low given the number of that group’s members in the community; and (3) the low number of group members is the result of exclusion, not accident. In this case, the Court finds that the Sixth Amendment was violated because even though women made up more than 50 percent of the general population, they represented only 15 percent of the jury pool.

1979Possibility Of Jail Not Enough To Trigger Right To Counsel

In Scott v. Illinois, the U.S. Supreme Court clarifies its 1972 ruling in Argersinger v. Hamlin that a defendant who is convicted of a crime cannot be sentenced to jail unless he was offered the appointment of an attorney at trial. The Court says that in this case, in which the indigent defendant was not sentenced to jail even though it was one of several potential punishments, the state was not obligated under the Sixth Amendment to appoint counsel.

1980Rules Clarified On Identifying Lawyers’ Conflicts Of Interest

In Cuyler v. Sullivan, the U.S. Supreme Court clarifies the rules for deciding whether a defense attorney representing multiple defendants has a conflict of interest that violates a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel. The Court rules that a defendant can argue his right to effective counsel was violated whether he is paying for his attorney or has court-appointed counsel. The Court also says representing multiple defendants is not always prohibited. A trial court, it says, can decide if the circumstances require further investigation of a possible conflict. Additionally, the defendant need show only that his attorney’s conduct was adversely affected by a conflict, not that the outcome of the trial would have been different.

1980Right To Counsel Exists When Someone Other Than Police Gathers Evidence

In United States v. Henry, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that police violated a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel when they paid the defendant’s cellmate to “pay attention” to any remarks made by the defendant that were potentially incriminating. Because the defendant’s attorney was not in the cell when these conversations occurred, and because the defendant would not have made any of the statements if he were aware that the cellmate was acting on behalf of the police, the Court finds that any evidence gathered through this method could not be used at trial.

1984Standby Counsel Does Not Violate Self-Representation Right

In a 1975 case, Faretta v. California, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that a defendant has a right to represent himself and the Court cannot force counsel on the defendant. However, in McKaskle v. Wiggins, the justices rule that a defendant’s right to represent himself at trial is not violated by the presence of counsel appointed by the court to “stand by” and assist the defendant in following certain courtroom procedures. The Court finds that so long as the standby counsel simply helps the trial proceed more efficiently, and does not cross into taking control of the defendant’s case, the Sixth Amendment is not violated.

1984Court Defines Test For Ineffective Counsel

In Strickland v. Washington, the U.S. Supreme Court establishes a two-part test for deciding whether an attorney provided “effective” or “ineffective” assistance to a criminal defendant who is found guilty. First, the quality of the attorney’s actual performance must be assessed. This includes factors such as the attorney’s preparation for trial (such as whether he thoroughly learned the evidence and gathered all possible evidence for the defense) and second, the attorney’s conduct at the trial (such as whether he made the appropriate objections to certain evidence). It does not cover the tactical decisions that a defense attorney might make during trial (such as the order in which witnesses are put on the stand). Second, if the attorney’s conduct is judged to have been poor, it also is necessary to look at whether that poor conduct hurt the defendant’s case to the point where there is a “reasonable probability” that the outcome would have been different. If both parts of the test are not satisfied, then the counsel will be considered to have been effective, and the Sixth Amendment not violated.

1985Assistance Of Counsel On Appeal Must Also Be Effective

In Evitts v. Lucey, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that, just as the Sixth Amendment guarantees a criminal defendant effective assistance of counsel at trial, he also is entitled to effective assistance of counsel when appealing a conviction.

1985Ineffective Counsel Standard Applies To Plea Bargains

In Hill v. Lockhart, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that when a defendant who pleaded guilty under a plea bargain agreement later complains that he received “ineffective assistance of counsel,” he must show that he would not have pleaded guilty if his attorney had performed differently.

1986Alleged Co-Conspirators’ Outside Statements Admissible

In United States v. Inadi, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that an out-of-court statement by the defendant’s alleged co-conspirator, made during a wiretapped conversation, may be introduced into evidence against him even though the alleged co-conspirator is available to testify. The Court rules that the taped conversation has its own value as evidence of the conspiracy, and that value is not dependent on the defendant’s ability to cross-examine the alleged co-conspirator.

1986No Police Questioning Can Occur After Attorney Is Requested

In Michigan v. Jackson, the U.S. Supreme Court finds that after a criminal defendant exercises his Sixth Amendment right by asking for an attorney to be appointed, police cannot interrogate the defendant even if the defendant states a willingness to be questioned without an attorney present.

1986Peremptory Challenges Based On Race Barred

In Batson v. Kentucky, the U.S. Supreme Court decides that peremptory challenges based on race are unconstitutional. The Court finds that racial bias in jury selection not only violates the defendant’s rights but also harms the community because it “undermines public confidence in the fairness of our system of justice.”

1988Screen Blocking Witness From Defendant Held Unconstitutional

In Coy v. Iowa, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the Sixth Amendment’s confrontation clause was violated when two 13-year-old witnesses in a child sexual abuse case were allowed to testify against the defendant behind a screen so they would not have to see the defendant. The defendant was able to hear their testimony and see the girls dimly. The Court leaves open the possibility that such a screen would be allowable when a child witness was likely to experience trauma if forced to testify in open court.

1990Child Sex-Abuse Victims May Testify On Closed-Circuit TV

In Maryland v. Craig, the U.S. Supreme Court expands on its 1988 Coy v. Iowa ruling and finds that a child witness in a sexual-abuse case may testify via closed-circuit television to prevent likely “serious emotional distress” caused by having to face the defendant accused of the abuse. In another case, Idaho v. Wright, the Court restricts the testimony of adults who have interviewed child sexual-abuse victims. The Court says the prosecution would have to convince the judge that the child’s statements were inherently reliable.

1992Restrictions On Challenges Apply To Defense Lawyers, Too

In Georgia v. McCollum, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that it is just as wrong for defense attorneys to strike potential jurors on the basis of their race as it is for prosecutors to do so. The Court makes clear, though, that its ruling does not prevent defense attorneys from striking potential jurors “for cause” if they express views about race that will prevent them from being fair.

1993Defendant Must Be Mentally Competent To Waive Counsel Right

In Godinez v. Moran, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that a criminal defendant can waive the Sixth Amendment right to assistance of counsel and plead guilty if he has already met the same standard used to decide whether a defendant is mentally competent to stand trial: Whether he has “sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding” and a “rational as well as factual understanding of the proceedings” against him.

1998Court Extends Ruling On Co-Defendant’s Outside Statement

In Gray v. Maryland, the U.S. Supreme Court expands on its 1968 ruling in Bruton v. United States. In this joint trial of two defendants, one co-defendant confessed before trial but did not take the witness stand. The Court rules that it violates the Sixth Amendment’s confrontation clause for the confession to be read into evidence and to say “deleted” or “deletion” whenever the other defendant’s name is mentioned. The Court finds that the deletions suggest to the jury that the other defendant is the person being referred to, yet the co-defendant who made the confession is unable to be cross-examined.

2000Court: No Self-Representation Right On Appeals

In Martinez v. Court of Appeals of California, Fourth Appellate District, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that a criminal defendant does not have a constitutional right to represent himself when appealing a conviction.

2000No Absolute Requirement To Appeal Client’s Conviction

In Roe v. Flores-Ortega, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that when a criminal defendant enters a guilty plea and is informed of the right to appeal, the Sixth Amendment does not require the defense counsel to file an appeal unless the defendant specifically asks him to do so. Only if the defense counsel disregards this direct order will his representation be found ineffective.

2000Ruling On Sentencing Opens Door To Challenges

In Apprendi v. New Jersey, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidates a New Jersey hate-crime law, ruling that it violates the Sixth Amendment by improperly allowing a judge, and not a jury, to decide that the crime was motivated by racial bias, thereby increasing the penalty. The justices rule that any factor that would increase the penalty for a crime beyond the “prescribed statutory maximum,” other than a prior conviction, must be submitted to a jury and proved beyond a reasonable doubt. The Court’s dissenters warn the decision will cause widespread turmoil as sentencing procedures in other contexts will be challenged.

2002Ineffective Strategy Does Not Mean Ineffective Counsel

In Bell v. Cone, the U.S. Supreme Court refuses to find that an attorney provided ineffective assistance of counsel when he decided at the sentencing phase of a death-penalty trial not to call witnesses or to make a final argument. Given the brutality of the crime (the murders of two elderly victims), the defense counsel refused to make a closing argument, which, in turn, deprived the prosecution of its ability to make one, sparing the jury from hearing again the details of the crime. The Court finds that this was a “tactical decision about which competent lawyers might disagree” and therefore, it could not be found to have violated the Sixth Amendment.

2003Court Restates Right To Effective Counsel In Capital Cases

In Wiggins v. Smith, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidates the death sentence of Kevin Wiggins on the ground that he had ineffective assistance of counsel, in violation of the Sixth Amendment, during the sentencing phase of his trial. The Court bases its ruling on the fact that Wiggins’ background included childhood abuse, as well as mental illness and borderline mental retardation, but defense lawyers did not present such evidence to the jury as mitigating factors that could have prevented the death penalty from being imposed.

2004Court Decision Raises Doubts On Sentencing Guidelines

In Blakely v. Washington, the U.S. Supreme Court finds that Washington state’s sentencing guidelines violate the Sixth Amendment’s right to trial by jury. The Court rules that all evidence used to justify increasing a defendant’s sentence beyond the “prescribed statutory maximum” must be submitted to a jury and found beyond a reasonable doubt. Before this ruling, after a defendant either pleaded guilty or was convicted at a trial, the judge, not the jury, possessed full authority over the sentencing hearings. The Court’s decision invalidates Washington’s sentencing guidelines, those in other states with similar guidelines, and raises doubts about the federal sentencing guidelines as well.

2005Justices Invalidate Federal Sentencing Guidelines

In United States v. Booker, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that federal sentencing guidelines violate the Sixth Amendment. Under the guidelines, judges had the authority to implement factual findings to increase a criminal’s sentence beyond the “prescribed statutory maximum,” regardless of the jury’s findings. The justices find, however, that this system infringes on the defendant’s right to trial by jury. To remedy the problem, the Court says, judges should consider the guidelines advisory, not mandatory, when imposing sentences that will be upheld on appeal as long as they are not “unreasonable.” The Court leaves it to Congress to establish a new system that complies with Sixth Amendment protections.

2006Waiver On Speedy Trial Right Rejected

In Zedner v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court finds that a federal defendant’s rights under the Speedy Trial Act of 1974 were violated when he signed a statement in which he waived any future right to a speedy trial. He later tried to assert his right and have his indictment dropped. The Court says the statute does not allow for such a waiver.

2006911 Tapes Are Admissible As Evidence

In two companion cases, the U.S. Supreme Court is asked to decide whether a victim’s report of a crime to a 911 operator or to a police investigator qualifies as “testimonial evidence.” If they are found to be testimonial, then they would likely be inadmissible as evidence because the Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to cross-examine witnesses. In Davis v. Washington, the justices find that 911 tapes are admissible because callers are not acting as witnesses at the time. In Hammon v. Indiana, statements to police investigating a crime are found to be “testimonial” and cannot be allowed into evidence at trial.

2019Attorneys Must Follow Client’s Instructions To Appeal, Despite Waiver

In Garza v. Idaho, the U.S. Supreme Court says in a 6-3 ruling that attorneys cannot ignore their clients’ instructions to file appeals from criminal convictions even if the clients signed an agreement to waive appeals as part of their plea agreements. If the attorneys refuse, that is ineffective assistance of counsel.

2020Unanimous Verdicts Required In State Criminal Trials

The U.S. Supreme Court decides, 6-3, the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial requires unanimous verdicts in trials for serious crimes in both state and federal courts. Louisiana and Oregon had allowed defendants to be convicted on divided votes. The majority opinion said that those states’ systems allowed white jurors to make the votes of a few African American on juries meaningless. The ruling reverses the 1972 decision that allowed nonunanimous verdicts in state courts.