“What is the Sixth Amendment?
You wouldn’t be blamed for having to consult Google to answer that question. The Founders are rolling in their graves anyway.
It’s the right to a trial by jury, and it’s one that society has all but disposed of—despite the Framers’ insistence that it be included in the Bill of Rights as one of the primary bulwarks against government tyranny.
They didn’t exactly mince words. “Representative government and trial by jury are the heart and lungs of liberty,” wrote John Adams. “Without them we have no fortification against being ridden like horses, fleeced like sheep, worked like cattle, and fed and clothed like swine and hogs.”
One wonders what animalistic metaphors Adams would conjure today if he could see the U.S. criminal justice system in motion: one in which about 97 percent of trials are resolved without juries, devoid of the sacrosanct lifeblood that keeps human liberty from death by suffocation.
That tool has been supplanted by the plea bargain. In popular culture, that’s widely seen as advantageous to defendants. In reality, it’s been disastrous. It epitomizes government coercion. It epitomizes what the Founders warned against.”
“The bulk of a prosecutor’s job is not spent in the hallowed halls of a courtroom participating in a high-stakes battle over someone’s liberty, all while journalists wait in the wings to capture the victor’s speech on marble steps. It’s spent in backrooms, with district attorneys “charge-stacking,” or filing multiple criminal charges against someone for the same offense, calculating a grisly potential prison sentence, and offering to make some of that go away—so long as the defendant in question does not exercise his or her constitutional right to a trial by jury.
If they refuse, then they will risk a substantially higher time behind bars, not because a prosecutor views it as necessary for public safety but because he or she dared to inconvenience them with a trial. After all, what the defendant is accused of didn’t change. But trials are expensive. And the government can never be sure when it will win, so better to avoid them where possible.
That latter part—the uncertainty—is supposed to be the point. It’s true that many criminal defendants are guilty. It’s also true that some are innocent and have been forced to pay with their liberty anyway. A person who is not guilty likely wants to go to trial. But why risk a decade behind bars for insisting on your Sixth Amendment right when you could be out in two or three?”