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The requirement that a jury be impartial is a critical requirement of the Sixth Amendment. Both the prosecution and the defense are permitted to reject potential jurors who they believe are unable to fairly decide the case without prejudice. However, the courts have also said that the composition of the jury as a whole may in itself be prejudicial; potential jurors may not be excluded simply because of their race or sex, for example.

See, for example, Batson v. Kentucky , 476 U.S. 79 (1986); J. E. B. v. Alabama ex rel. T. B. , 511 U.S. 127 (1994).

The Sixth Amendment guarantees the right of those accused of crimes to present witnesses in their own defense (if necessary, compelling them to testify) and to confront and cross-examine witnesses presented by the prosecution. In general, the only testimony acceptable in a criminal trial must be given in a courtroom and be subject to cross-examination; hearsay, or testimony by one person about what another person has said, is generally inadmissible, although hearsay may be presented as evidence when it is an admission of guilt by the defendant or a “dying declaration” by a person who has passed away. Although both sides in a trial have the opportunity to examine and cross-examine witnesses, the judge may exclude testimony deemed irrelevant or prejudicial.

Finally, the Sixth Amendment guarantees the right of those accused of crimes to have the assistance of an attorney in their defense. Historically, many states did not provide attorneys to those accused of most crimes who could not afford one themselves; even when an attorney was provided, his or her assistance was often inadequate at best. This situation changed as a result of the Supreme Court’s decision in Gideon v. Wainwright (1963).

Gideon v. Wainwright , 372 U.S. 335 (1963).
Clarence Gideon , a poor drifter, was accused of breaking into and stealing money and other items from a pool hall in Panama City, Florida. Denied a lawyer, Gideon was tried and convicted and sentenced to a five-year prison term. While in prison—still without assistance of a lawyer—he drafted a handwritten appeal and sent it to the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear his case ( [link] ). The justices unanimously ruled that Gideon, and anyone else accused of a serious crime, was entitled to the assistance of a lawyer, even if they could not afford one, as part of the general due process right to a fair trial.

Photo A is of a handwritten petition. Photo B is of Clarence Gideon.
The handwritten petition for appeal (a) sent to the Supreme Court by Clarence Gideon, shown here circa 1961 (b), the year of his Florida arrest for breaking and entering.

The Supreme Court later extended the Gideon v. Wainwright ruling to apply to any case in which an accused person faced the possibility of “loss of liberty,” even for one day. The courts have also overturned convictions in which people had incompetent or ineffective lawyers through no fault of their own. The Gideon ruling has led to an increased need for professional public defenders, lawyers who are paid by the government to represent those who cannot afford an attorney themselves, although some states instead require practicing lawyers to represent poor defendants on a pro bono basis (essentially, donating their time and energy to the case).

Questions & Answers

what is government
Seth Reply
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Julius Reply
what type of government does American practice?
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what type of government does American practice
Representative Democracy
what is communalism
Yarhere Reply
suppression of the people and their rights.
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debbie Reply
which political party has had the most sucess
Damion Reply
In what ways can the media change the way a citizen thinks about government?
Justin Reply
Which of the following is not an agent of political socialization?
Vanessa Reply
What is government
how is the legislative work ?
Abdurahim Reply
law making
When acting as an agenda setter, the media
Brooke Reply
How do you know the answer to a question?
Nikaela Reply
which was not a third party challenger
Jonna Reply
the system of government in the United States is best described as?
Gabrielle Reply
a government for the people by the people
Which of the following was not a third-party challenger? a. Whig Party b. Progressive Party c. Dixiecrats d. Green Party
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Source:  OpenStax, American government. OpenStax CNX. Dec 05, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11995/1.15
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