This is the fourth in a series of posts I want to do on the Bill of Rights. It seems that most Americans have forgotten or never learned what these first ten amendments to our Constitution said and what they mean to our freedoms. The Constitution would not have been ratified without them.
In this post I will be commenting on the fifth trough the eighth amendments. These all have to do with the legal system and, not being a legal expert, my comments will be short and should not be construed as legal advice. They are a short statement of what I think we need to know about these amendments. There are so many Supreme Court opinions on these that it would be difficult for anyone, even a legal expert, to have a full grasp of how they are interpreted in our modern legal system.
Fifth Amendment: Provisions concerning prosecution
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.
This amendment deals with two types of crime, capital and infamous. Capital crimes are those that can result in the death penalty. Infamous crimes are those that cause or bring about a total loss of reputation or public disgrace, or that have qualities notoriously bad and scandalous.
The only exception to the protection of this amendment is that which falls under the authority of our military justice system. And this exception is only valid “in time of war or public danger.”
The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that the government cannot just arrest someone and put them in prison without cause and to ensure a fair and impartial trial.
Sixth Amendment: Right to a speedy trial and confrontation with the witnesses against the accused
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.
This amendment ensures that the government cannot hold one accused of a crime for long periods of time awaiting trial. It also ensures that the accused can confront those who accuse him. I also ensures the right to a fair trial with the assistance of a competent defense lawyer. It assures that the accused knows the nature of the accusations against him. It also give the right to subpoena witnesses in his favor and their obligation to testify.
It also ensures the right of a public trial by an impartial jury in criminal cases.
Seventh Amendment: Right to trial by jury
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.
This amendment ensures the right of a trial by jury in civil suits. It also ensures than in any trial by jury, the decision of the jury is final can cannot be reexamined by any other US court. It would seem that this limits the right of appeal in civil suits. The last clause “than according to the rules of common law” may give some wiggle room on the right of appeal.
Eighth Amendment: Protection against excessive bail and cruel punishment
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
This amendment ensures that bail must be in accordance with the nature of the crime and the risk of flight of the accused. It also ensures that the punishment must be commensurate with the crime.
Copyright 2017 Pierre Coovert, All rights reserved