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Amendment VIII

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

May 6, 2012 – Essay #56 – Amendment XIV – The 14th Amendment’s Impact on the Constitution – Guest Essayist: J. Eric Wise, a partner in the law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP

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Amendment XIV:

1: All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

 

2: Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice-President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.

 

3: No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

 

4: The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any State shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.

 

5: The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

After the Civil War came the Reconstruction Amendments.  Thinking about the Civil War leads to thinking about the compromises in the Constitution over slavery, which in turn leads to thinking about the Declaration of Independence.  The Declaration embodied the principles that were compromised, “the proposition that all men are created equal.”  The Reconstruction Amendments in a sense constitutionalize the promise of the Declaration and represent a “new birth of freedom,” eliminating the compromises in the Constitution over slavery.  While the 13th Amendment prohibits de jure slavery and the 15th Amendment secures voting rights, the 14th Amendment is as a guaranty against de facto slavery.

The Constitution of 1789 contained a few key limits on state action.  No state could enter into treaties, coin money, pass bills of attainder or ex post facto laws, impair contracts or confer nobility, impose tariffs, conduct foreign policy or make war.  Citizens of each state were entitled to the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several states, but states had the power to determine who was a citizen.  Every state was guaranteed a Republican form of government.

States could make laws with respect to almost any other subject matter, and enforce them as they saw fit, subject only to the state constitution.  The states had broad latitude to shape their laws, to determine issues with respect to fairness and rights, and therewith shape the habits – the virtues and vices – of their peoples.  This latitude included, by intention, the power to impose and protect slavery (and by extension other social and political perversions, short of monarchical government).  The 14th Amendment fundamentally changed this.

Section 1 of the 14th Amendment reads:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

The citizenship clause extinguished the ante bellum issues created by Dred Scott v. Sanford (1854) on questions of citizenship.  The privileges and immunities clause placed alien and resident persons in a state on equal footing.  The due process clause guaranteed fair procedure in an actions under state law. The equal protection clause provided for federal oversight as to the equal application of laws to persons within each state.  Additionally section 2 of the 14th Amendment eliminated the three-fifths compromise provisions regarding apportionment of representatives.

As a federal guaranty of certain rights, the 14th Amendment subjects states to federal supervision with respect to fairness and basic rights, whether or not state constitutions already provide such guarantees.  That oversight has provides the federal government – in particular the federal judiciary – with great power to shape the institutions and character of people where once the states had almost exclusive authority.

Judicial construction of the 14th Amendment has changed over time and with it the direction of federal influence over state affairs.  Cases such as Lochner v. New York (1905) and Adkins v. Children’s Hospital (1923) upheld “freedom of contract” as a protected right until the doctrine was reversed in West Coast Hotel v. Parrish (1937).  Equal protection case Brown v. Board of Education (1954) profoundly changed – indeed rescued — the American social landscape, dismantling racial segregation. Equal protection case Hernandez v. Texas (1954) created protected classes of racial and ethnic groups.  Through 14th Amendment cases the First, Second, Fourth, portions of the Fifth, Sixth and Eighth Amendments have incorporated against the states under the doctrine of “substantive due process.”

Also through the 14th Amendment, the judiciary has incorporated rights against the states that are implied by “penumbras” and “emanations” of other express Constitutional provisions.  For example, Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) established a right to privacy which limited the right of a state to prohibit the use of contraceptives.  And there is Roe v. Wade (1973), a 14th Amendment case, famously establishing a national rule over the regulation of abortion, where previously each state had set its own rules, including prohibiting abortion in many states.  These last two cases raise an important question.  Was the 14th Amendment intended to displace the state legislatures with the nine justices of the Supreme Court to the extent it has in practice?

J. Eric Wise is a partner in the law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, where he practices restructuring and finance

 

April 9, 2012 – Essay #36 – Amendment VIII: Guest Essayist: Matthew Mehan, Publius Fellow and U.S. History Teacher

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http://vimeo.com/39996693
Amendment VIII:

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

The adoption of this terse amendment, the shortest of them all, inspired very little debate among our founding fathers. These sixteen words reflect the hard-won and long-defended consensus of free society that just government remains so only if its punishments correspond proportionally to the crimes committed.  The 8th Amendment stands as a testament to the humanism of our Constitution, which makes clear that the government of a free people must be known not for its severity, but instead for its measured humanity.

Each of the three components of the amendment aim to limit one of the government’s discretionary powers: (1) setting bail; (2) imposing fines; and (3) sentencing.  The amendment implicitly recommends that the legislature specify proportional guidelines for these broad powers: how much bail; how high the fines; and how long or difficult the sentence.  The wisdom of having such an amendment stems from abuse of these powers dating back as far as the expansion of monarchical courts under William the Conqueror. William’s descendent, King John, saw these powers greatly limited by the Magna Charta, which sought to reign in the king’s unlawful use of royal courts.  And the language of the 8th Amendment is taken almost word for word from the 1689 English Bill of Rights, which reaffirmed these limitations on the monarch, in this case, the Stuart dynasts.  And in our own day, for the “excessive fines” clause to be applied, the Supreme Court ruled as recently as 1993 that “there must be a payment to a sovereign as punishment for some offense.”  From its historical origins to the present day, the amendment’s primary focus has remained the same: the restriction of the sovereign government in favor of the liberty of a defendant.  The 8th Amendment goes further than enumerate a federal power; it advises the legislature to do what the common law has always done, namely specify, as Blackstone put it, “the nature, though not the quantity or degree, of punishment…for every offence….”  By doing so, the amendment protects the liberty of all, “for,” as Blackstone continues, “if judgments were to be the private opinions of the judge, men would then be slaves to their magistrates; and would live in society, without knowing exactly the conditions and obligations which it lays them under.”

A humane and just government, therefore, must permit reasonable accommodation for pre-trial liberty for those accused of a crime but not yet convicted.  Thus, (1) “excessive bail shall not be required” because, if a citizen is innocent until proven guilty, then the citizen ought to have his or her liberty by means of reasonable bail even when accused.  The Supreme Court has upheld some exceptions for those accused of particularly dangerous crimes, but overall, the amendment and subsequent case law have protected citizens’ pre-trial liberty and right to post bail.

A humane and just government must not (2) impose “excessive fines.”  The 8th Amendment has been used by the courts to limit fines and penalties on the basis established in a 1998 case that those fines were “grossly disproportional to the gravity of a defendant’s offense.”  By limiting the potentially capricious punishment of excessive fines, the amendment has made for a more peaceful and predictable civil society, one freer from unforeseen onerous fines, which confiscate property and lead to possible imprisonment.

And finally, a humane and just government does not (3) inflict “cruel and unusual punishment.”  The Supreme Court first saw this clause as a bar on brutal punishments extant at the time of the founders, horrors such as disembowelment or being dragged to execution.  But the Warren court and due process has expanded this clause’s application to a whole host of considerations as to what constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment,” including deciding whether capital punishment is a disproportional penalty for certain crimes.  While perhaps our founders would not have approved of its modern and wider application, nevertheless, the 8th amendment continues to function as a warning to government lest it become too severe or capricious in its task of punishment.

Matthew Mehan is, among other things, a U.S. history teacher in Washington DC.

April 6, 2012 – Essay # 35 – Amendment VIII: Right Against Cruel and Unusual Punishment – Guest Essayist: Nathaniel Stewart, Attorney

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http://vimeo.com/39872908
Amendment VIII:

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

 

Early Origins of the 8th Amendment’s

“Cruel and Unusual Punishments” Clause

Like many provisions of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the protection against “cruel and unusual punishments” prescribed in the 8th Amendment has deep English roots.  The text of the 8th Amendment is taken almost verbatim from England’s Declaration of Rights of 1689, an indictment of King James II that reads rather like our own Declaration of Independence and accuses the king and his government of mistreating the people and subverting the law.

 

Historians generally agree that the “cruel and unusual punishments” clause of the English Declaration of Rights was in response to abuses by the infamous Lord Chief Justice Jeffreys of the King’s Bench during James II’s reign.  Lord Chief Justice Jeffreys presided over the “Bloody Assizes”—a special commission that tried, convicted, and executed hundreds of suspected rebels following the failed rebellion in 1685.  The Bloody Assizes carried out punishments that included drawing and quartering, burning, beheading, and disemboweling those convicted.  But these punishments, as vicious as they might sound to us today, were specifically authorized by law at the time.  More recent scholarship suggests that it was not the nature of the punishments that led to the Declaration of Rights provision, but the arbitrary sentencing power that Jeffreys had used in sentencing those found guilty.  Many believed that Jeffreys was merely inventing special penalties for enemies of the king, and that those penalties and punishments were not authorized by the common law or by statute.

 

Thus, the Declaration of Rights objects to the “illegal and cruel punishments inflicted . . . All which are utterly and directly contrary to the known laws and statutes and freedom of this realm.”  1 Wm. & Mary, Sess. 2, ch. 2 (1689).  Legal discussions at the time of the Declaration of Rights indicated that a punishment was not considered wrong only because it was severe or even disproportionate to the crime; but a punishment was “cruel and unusual” if it was “out of the Judges’ power,” “contrary to the law and ancient practice,” “without precedent,” “illegal,” or imposed by “pretence to a discretionary power.”  The phrase “cruel and unusual” was often synonymous with “cruel and illegal.”

 

By the time of America’s founding many of the colonies had constitutions with provisions very similar to the “cruel and unusual punishments” clause of England’s Declaration of Rights.  In 1791, five States prohibited “cruel or unusual punishments, and two more States prohibited “cruel” punishments.  The U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights ultimately followed Virginia’s prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishments.”

 

Because there were no federal common-law punishments, the clause effectively served as a check upon the Congress, not upon federal judges, so there is some question as whether “unusual punishment” continued to mean a punishment “contrary to law” as it had meant under English law.  Instead, “unusual punishment” came to mean one that “does not occur in ordinary practice.”  Webster’s American Dictionary (1828).  It is widely believed that by forbidding “cruel and unusual punishments,” the 8th Amendment prevents Congress from authorizing particular kinds or modes of punishment, especially cruel methods of punishment that are not regularly or customarily used.

 

The debates in the state ratifying conventions support the idea that the “cruel and unusual punishments” clause was designed to prohibit certain forms of punishment.  In the Massachusetts Convention in 1788, for example, one objection to the Constitution (without a Bill of Rights) was that Congress was “nowhere restrained from inventing the most cruel and unheard-of punishments, and annexing them to crimes; and there is no constitutional check on it, but that racks and gibbets may be amongst the most mild instruments of discipline.”  2 J. Elliot, Debates on the Federal Constitution 111 (2d ed. 1854).  A Bill of Rights was needed, they argued, in order to prevent Congress from “inventing” such punishments and resorting to vicious types of discipline.

 

Early commentaries on the Amendment also indicate that it was designed to outlaw certain types of punishment:  “The prohibition of cruel and unusual punishments, marks the improved spirit of the age, which would not tolerate the use of the rack or the stake, or any of those horrid modes of torture, devised by human ingenuity for the gratification of fiendish passion.”  J. Bayard, A Brief Exposition of the Constitution of the United States 154 (1840).  And, as Justice Story observed in his Commentaries on the Constitution, the 8th Amendment was “adopted as an admonition to all departments of the national government, to warn them against such violent proceedings, as had taken place in England in the arbitrary reigns of some of the Stuarts.”  3 J. Story, Commentaries of on the Constitution of the United States § 1896 (1833).

 

As the history and origins of the 8th Amendment make clear, criminal punishments should not be arbitrary or exacted by judges contrary to the law; and neither should they be “unusual” or torturous methods of discipline that are beyond the ordinary forms of reproach.  The 8th Amendment helps to protect against such punishments, and is yet another example of the Founders drawing upon their understanding of the rights of Englishmen, adapting the rights and laws of England to their own circumstance and government, and learning the lessons of history so as not to repeat the same mistakes.

Nathaniel Stewart is an attorney in Washington, D.C.

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April 5, 2012 – Essay #34 – Amendment VIII: Right Against Excessive Fines – Guest Essayist: Allison R. Hayward, Vice President of Policy at the Center for Competitive Politics

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http://vimeo.com/39813188

Amendment VIII:

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

Excessive Fines Clause

The Eighth Amendment declares excessive fines to be unconstitutional.   Along with the other clauses of the amendment, which prohibit excessive bail and cruel and unusual punishment, this clause sought to protect Americans against prosecutorial overreach by the government.

The Eighth Amendment echoed Art I, § 9, of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which itself appropriated from the English Bill of Rights. Section 10 of the English Bill of Rights of 1689, like our Eighth Amendment, stated that “excessive Bail ought not to be required, nor excessive Fines imposed; nor cruel and unusual Punishments inflicted.”

The 1689 English version was meant to curb abuses by English judges. During the reigns of the Stuarts, judges had imposed heavy fines on the King’s enemies.  In the 1680’s in particular, the use of fines became even more excessive and selective, and opponents of the King who could not pay were imprisoned.  The authors of the 1689 Bill of Rights knew this only too well – having been themselves subjected to selective and heavy fines by the King’s judges.

The Eighth Amendment in general received little debate in the First Congress, and the Excessive Fines Clause received even less attention. Perhaps this is because the wisdom of these limitations was obvious to the Framers; at least eight of the original States that ratified the Constitution had some equivalent of the Excessive Fines Clause in their respective Declarations of Rights or State Constitutions.

Even so, there are two obvious ambiguities in the clause that have required interpretation.  First, what kinds of payments are “fines?”  Second, what fines should be considered “excessive?”

I.      What is a fine?

Given that the Eighth Amendment is identical to a clause from the English Bill of rights, it is useful to know what a “fine” was thought to be in English law.  English cases immediately prior to the enactment of the English Bill of Rights stressed the difference between civil damages and criminal fines. Lord Townsend v. Hughes, 2 Mod. 150, 86 Eng. Rep. 994 (C. P. 1677).  A fine was defined as a payment to the state, not a state-ordered payment to another private citizen.  Accordingly, court-ordered damages paid to a private litigant, even punitive damages, have been held not to implicate the Eighth Amendment.  Browning-Ferris Industries v. Kelco Disposal, 492 US 257 (1989). However, asset forfeiture, which requires property to be awarded to the government as punishment for some offense, is subject to the Eighth Amendment.  Austin v. United States, 509 U.S. 602, 622 (1993).

 

II.     When is a fine “excessive?”

 

Whether a fine is excessive depends on its proportionality.  That is, the amount of the forfeiture must bear some relationship to the gravity of the offense that it is intended to punish. Austin v. United States, 509 U. S., at 622-623.  In the case of a monetary fine, a court would consider whether the value of the fine is in relation to the seriousness of the offense.  A hypothetical extreme example would be exacting a million dollar fine to punish jaywalking.  Closer cases are naturally harder to judge.

 

Unfortunately, the fines English judges had imposed were never described with much specificity.  None of these sources suggests how out of proportion a fine must be in order to be deemed constitutionally excessive.

The Supreme Court has addressed this issue in a handful of cases.  It has concluded that a forfeiture of hundreds of thousands of dollars is disproportionate when a defendant is guilty only of a failure to declare the funds when leaving the country.

United States v. Bajakajian, 524 U.S. 321 (1998). In the in rem asset forfeiture context, Justice Scalia has observed that the Constitution should prohibit seizure of property that cannot properly be regarded as an instrumentality of the offense— for example the building in which an isolated drug sale happens to occur. For him, the right question here is not how much the confiscated property is worth, but whether the confiscated property has a close enough relationship to the offense.

The Supreme Court has noted that legislatures have the primary duty to decide what fines are proportionate, and deserve deference to make such standards. The Court’s present interpretation of the excessive fines clause will reject an unconstitutionally excessive fine only when the amount of the forfeiture is grossly disproportional to the gravity of the defendant’s offense.  As a result, the Eighth Amendment protects citizens against the most outrageous fines, but not against large but less extreme fines.

 

For further reading: Laurence Claus, Methodology, Proportionality, Equality: Which Moral Question Does the Eighth Amendment Pose? 31 Harvard J. of Law and Pub. Pol’y 38 (2008).

 

Allison Hayward graduated from Stanford University with degrees in political science and economics, and received her law degree from the University of California, Davis.  She clerked for Judge Danny J. Boggs of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.  Hayward is Chairman of the Federalist Society’s Free Speech and Election Law Practice Group. She also serves on the Board of the Office of Congressional Ethics.  She is an active member of the California and Washington, D.C. bars, and she is a certified FINRA arbitrator.

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April 4, 2012 – Essay # 33 – Amendment VIII: Right to Reasonable Bail – Guest Essayist: William C. Duncan, Director of the Marriage Law Foundation

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http://vimeo.com/39746844
Amendment VIII:

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

Amendment VIII: Reasonable Bail

After arrest, a criminal defendant can be released if he offers some security to ensure he will appear at trial. The release and required security are called bail. Bail protects “the defendant’s interest in pretrial liberty and society’s interest in assuring the defendant’s presence at trial.” The idea is to set bail high enough that the person charged with a crime would not want to risk forfeiting it by refusing to show up at trial but not so high that a person can’t pay and go about life as normally as possible during the interim between arrest and trial. Other considerations will be the risk that the defendant would commit the same crime again while on bail. Donald B. Verrilli, Jr., “The Eighth Amendment and the Right to Bail: Historical Perspectives” Columbia Law Review, vol. 82, p. 328 (1982).

In some circumstances, the crime is so serious or the risk that the defendant would flee so great that bail would be entirely denied. For instance, in the past month or so, a British citizen accused of facilitating weapons shipments to Iran was denied bail (http://www.forbes.com/sites/walterpavlo/2012/03/05/extradited-u-k-citizen-chris-tappin-denied-bail/) as was the doctor accused of causing the death of a pop musician (http://abcnews.go.com/US/michael-jacksons-doctor-conrad-murray-denied-bail/story?id=15784437#.T3C6BTFBt2A).

The disputes lingering from the English Civil War and simmering religious hostility led to the “abdication” (actually flight from England after it was invaded by William of Orange at the request of some of the English nobility) of James II as King of England in 1688. When Parliament formally invited William and Mary to reign as joint monarchs, they drafted the Bill of Rights of 1689 (http://avalon.law.yale.edu/17th_century/england.asp) as a formal statement of the rights of Englishmen they expected the new monarchs to respect and protect. They also laid out some complaints against James including: “excessive bail hath been required of persons committed in criminal cases, to elude the benefit of the laws made for the liberty of the subjects.” They thus specified, “That excessive bail ought not to be required.”

Thus, the American colonists would have had an expectation, as Englishmen, of protection from excessive bail. The 1776 constitutions of a number of states specified protection of this right. The constitutions of Virginia, Delaware, and Pennsylvania enacted that year all prohibited “excessive bail.”

Given this history, it is not surprising that when James Madison was compiling proposals for a national Bill of Rights he would have included this requirement in what became the Eighth Amendment.

Of course, the key word is “excessive.” Requiring $1 million bail before releasing the celebrity who gets himself arrested on government property to draw attention to a cause is probably excessive. Someone charged of a string of armed bank robberies, however, could probably expect that kind of bail if flight risk is a consideration (although he may be able to afford it if guilty).

A recent news story (http://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2012/03/judge_questions_then_lowers_1.html) describes a situation where a man was stopped for traffic violations, searched and when a loaded weapon was found in his car, charged with felony gun possession crime. The bail was set at $1,000,000; another judge questioned that amount and the prosecutor asked for $50,000. The judge set bail at $10,000. Obviously, what some government officials find “excessive” will vary.

The Framers would insist that judges employ common-sense and fairness. That’s more likely where lawbreaking is not widespread and where citizens hold their leaders to account. Thus do rights on paper become rights in fact.

William C. Duncan is director of the Marriage Law Foundation (www.marriagelawfoundation.org). He formerly served as acting director of the Marriage Law Project at the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law and as executive director of the Marriage and Family Law Research Grant at J. Reuben Clark Law School, Brigham Young University, where he was also a visiting professor.

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March 28, 2012 – Essay #28 – Amendment VI: Right to Confront Accuser – Guest Essayist: Horace Cooper, Senior Fellow with the Heartland Institute

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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.

“…Right to confront your accuser…”


Perhaps more so than any other provision, the 6th Amendment’s confrontation clause is one of the greatest criminal justice protections of the Constitution.

 

While many Americans today may not be aware, there was a time when trials didn’t operate with the protections that we rely upon today.  Consider the trial of Sir Walter Raleigh.  Well known for promoting tobacco in England, he was an English aristocrat, writer, poet, soldier, courtier, spy, and explorer.

 

In 1603, Sir Walter Raleigh was arrested and accused of treason against King James.  Raleigh was allegedly one of the primary conspirators of the so-called “Main Plot,” an effort to end the rule of King James an install his cousin in his place.

 

The trial was held in the Great Hall of Winchester Castle and the primary evidence relied upon by the crown was the signed confession of Henry Brook, the Baron of Cobham. Throughout the trial, Raleigh requested that Baron Cobham be called in to testify so that he might demonstrate the falsity of the claims, “[Let] my accuser come face to face, and be deposed. Were the case but for a small copyhold, you would have witnesses or good proof to lead the jury to a verdict; and I am here for my life!”

 

Even though criminal law prevented the use of so called “hearsay” evidence, the crown’s tribunal refused to compel Baron Cobham’s testimony.   Without the ability to publicly force the baron’s testimony or to challenge his veracity, ultimately Raleigh was found guilty and imprisoned in the famous Tower of London.

 

This experience was a powerful one for the colonists coming to America and would significantly influence the contours of the 6th Amendment.

 

The modern Supreme Court has made it clear that the “Confrontation Clause guarantees an opportunity for effective cross-examination, not cross-examination that is in whatever way, and to whatever extent, the defendant might wish.”

 

The power of the government to use its resources to accuse, indict and try an individual is considerable.  The framers understood this concern and therefore provided for a means whereby the individual could have the ability to limit the impact of the government’s power in this arena.   The confrontation clause explicitly places a limit by requiring that evidence be presented by a bona fide witness capable of being “cross examined” or challenged on the witness stand.

 

Thus instead of unknown witnesses or unidentified individuals presenting allegations secretly to convict a person, the confrontation clause requires not only that the government identify those individuals as part of the trial, but to also allow the defendant to rebut or challenge any evidence they attempt to present.

 

Typically the confrontation rule requires that this occur in open court.  This rule not only applies to witnesses, but also to any written documentation or other types of evidence that the government may wish to present in a trial.  In other words, not only must a homeowner – who was an eyewitness — submit to “cross examination” in a burglary trial, any finger print or blood evidence must also be subject to a challenge by experts in finger print and forensic science.

 

Normally, evidence is testimonial, that is there is a person making the statement which is considered by the judge or jury and he or she must generally be available for cross examination.  While there may be an exception for a circumstance wherein the witness is unavailable, generally speaking the defendant must have had a prior opportunity for cross-examination of the witness before that testimony is allowed.

 

Furthermore the confrontation clause is one of the reasons that so-called “hearsay” evidence is limited in court.  Hearsay simply covers the type of information that may prove useful for a trial that is presented by someone other than an eyewitness about information that typically only the eyewitness could recount.  Because of the confrontation clause, even the limited evidence that is allowed to be presented under hearsay exemptions still must be presented by witnesses that can be challenged.  For example, a so-called deathbed confession may be allowed to be entered as evidence.  However the person or document presenting the evidence must be capable of being challenged regarding their motive or accuracy etc.

 

Without the confrontation clause, a valuable right would not exist that protects individuals against the power of the state. Per the terms of the confrontation clause, Ex Parte or out of court statements are generally not allowed, defendants are guaranteed the right of “personal examination” of the witness, the witness must testify under oath, and the jury must be allowed to observe the demeanor of the witness in making his statement.

 

Horace Cooper is a senior fellow with the Heartland Institute and is a writer and legal commentator

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March 15, 2012 – Essay #19 – Amendment V: Right Against Double Jeopardy – Guest Essayist: Professor Joerg Knipprath, Professor of Law at Southwestern Law School

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Amendment V:

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.

The 1999 movie Double Jeopardy, starring Ashley Judd and Tommie Lee Jones, focused on a wife who was wrongfully convicted of murdering her husband who had staged his own killing. One theme suggested by the title and by some scenes of prison lawyering is that, having once been convicted of murder, the wife could not be tried again if she now murdered her husband. Hardly.

The protection against double jeopardy is deemed a fundamental human right with a tradition well-entrenched in Western Civilization going back at least to ancient Roman law. The doctrine was part of the English common law long before the Constitution, although, curiously, express double jeopardy protections were not well-represented in the early state constitutions or in the proposals for amendments submitted by the state conventions that ratified the Constitution. Incidentally, the phrase “life or limb” today is read as “life or [physical] liberty,” since drawing-and-quartering and other punishments that produce corporal maiming have gone out of style and would likely constitute “cruel and unusual punishment” in violation of the 8th Amendment.

In Green v. U.S. in 1957, the Supreme Court justified the doctrine as reflecting

“the underlying idea…that the State with all its resources and power should not be allowed to make repeated attempts to convict an individual for an alleged offense, thereby subjecting him to embarrassment, expense, and ordeal compelling him to live in a continuing state of anxiety and insecurity, as well as enhancing the possibility that even though innocent he may be found guilty.”

On that last point, if the state gets numerous turns at bat, it only needs to be successful once, which produces significant incentive to try repeatedly. At the very least, such tactics will cause more defendants, emotionally and financially exhausted and faced with the deeper resources of taxpayer-funded prosecutors, to enter factually dubious guilty pleas.

The clause raises several questions. First, when does jeopardy “attach”? Second, what exactly can the government not do? Third, what exceptions are there?

Jeopardy attaches when a jury is empanelled and sworn. If the trial is to a judge only, it attaches when the first witness is sworn. If there is a guilty plea, it attaches when the court accepts the plea. An acquittal by the judge or jury bars the government from appeal because a retrial for that offense would violate the double jeopardy rule.

Notice that the government cannot retry the offender for the same offense. What if a defendant is acquitted of robbery, which combines larceny (taking and carrying away another’s personal property without consent and with the intent to deprive him of the property permanently) and assault (intentionally creating a reasonable apprehension of immediate bodily injury)? Can the prosecutor now seek to try the defendant for larceny and/or assault arising out of the same criminal act? The common sense reaction is “no.” That is also the legal stance, because two crimes constitute the “same offense,” unless each of them has at least one additional element that is different from the other. Here, while robbery has a different element than either larceny or assault (since it is a combination of the two), neither larceny nor assault has any additional element from robbery. A prosecutor who has failed in a prior trial cannot proceed against the same defendant for a “lesser-and-included” offense.

Likewise, a prosecutor who, for example, successfully prosecuted a defendant for larceny and has that conviction under his belt subsequently cannot roll the dice again and seek to try that defendant for the greater crime of robbery out of the same transaction. The lone exception to that rule is that a prosecution for battery (unlawfully using force against another that causes bodily injury) does not bar a subsequent trial for murder if the victim eventually succumbs to his wounds from the attack.

While the rule gives defendants some basic and significant protections, it is also riddled with exceptions and qualifications. In that vein, a hung jury is no bar to retrial. Neither are certain motions for mistrial by the defendant where the mistrial is not caused by prosecutorial misconduct. For example, conditions arise that make a continuing fair trial impossible in that location. There is also generally no violation of double jeopardy for a retrial if the defendant appealed and was successful in overturning the earlier verdict, or if the prosecution successfully appealed a trial court dismissal of the case when there was no acquittal but the trial court based its decision on a legal motion.

Significantly, double jeopardy does not apply to non-criminal proceedings. A public official who is impeached and removed from office for a crime can also be prosecuted for that act under the criminal law. In similar vein, a defendant who is convicted or acquitted in a criminal trial can be sued by the victim for a civil wrong. A notorious example of that is the former football star and advertising pitchman O.J. Simpson. Despite his acquittal of murder charges for the killing of his estranged wife and another victim, he was subsequently found liable for civil damages for “wrongful death.”

Returning to our movie, yet another exception shows the lack of reliability of jailhouse lawyering (or of Hollywood screenwriters). The double jeopardy clause does not apply to different sovereigns. Conviction or acquittal under the laws of one sovereign does not bar a different sovereign from prosecuting the defendant under its law for the same charge arising out of the same conduct if the conduct affected that sovereign. Although they usually avoid duplication, the state of California could prosecute a drug dealer for violation of its drug laws and then turn the perpetrator over to the federal government for prosecution under federal drug laws. A version of that was the 1993 federal prosecution of four Los Angeles police officers for violation of federal civil rights laws arising out of the use of excessive force in arresting Rodney King in 1991. The officers had mostly been acquitted in a 1992 state prosecution arising out of the same incident.

The legal assumptions of the movie are flawed. Being wrongfully convicted of murder may entitle the defendant to civil damages from the government. But it does not create a dispensation from prosecution for a subsequent murder. The Constitution has no “get-out-of-jail-free-for-murder” coupons to be redeemed as the occasion demands. More pertinent, had Louisiana prosecuted the movie’s protagonist for the murder of her husband, the prior prosecution by the state of Washington would not have placed her twice in jeopardy of life or limb for the same offense.

An expert on constitutional law, Prof. Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

February 21, 2012 – Essay #2 – The Bill of Rights, Purpose and Benefits – Guest Essayist: Richard Brookhiser, Author, James Madison

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http://vimeo.com/37225503
The Philadelphia Convention finished the Constitution and sent it on to Congress and to the states in September 1787. There was no Bill of Rights. George Mason, delegate from Virginia, had suggested adding one at the last minute, but his fellow delegates, who had been in session for three and a half months, wanted to get done and get home. They believed they had designed a structure of government that would prevent despots or overbearing majorities from seizing power; a list of rights struck them as mere ornament. “Whatever fine declarations may be inserted in any constitution,” argued New York delegate Alexander Hamilton, in the Federalist Papers (#84), “the only solid basis of all our rights” was “the general spirit of the people and of the government.”

In the year-long national debate over whether to ratify the Constitution, it became clear, however, that the American people wanted solid protections written into the new fundamental law. Religious minorities, in particular, were alarmed that the Constitution made no specific mention of their right to worship as they wished. James Madison of Virginia, like most of the delegates to the Philadelphia Convention, originally saw no need for a Bill of Rights; it would be, he feared, a “parchment barrier,” adding nothing of substance to the structural safeguards already built into the new system. But under pressure from Baptists in his home state—a minority sect long bullied by their Anglican neighbors—and from his best friend, Thomas Jefferson, who was then serving as a diplomat in Paris, Madison came around. “A bill of rights,” Jefferson wrote him, “is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth.” Madison came to see that rights written down in black and white would become “fundamental maxims of good government.” They would “rouse the attention” of Americans, who would rally to defend them.

So in June 1789, in the First Congress, Madison, who had been elected as a representative from Virginia , took the lead in drafting a set of amendments. He originally wanted to shoehorn his new additions into the body of the Constitution, but most of his colleagues favored adding them at the end. Congress submitted twelve amendments to the states for ratification in September 1789. The first, which regulated the size of congressional districts, fell by the wayside. The second, which concerned congressional pay, was not ratified until 1992, when it became the 27th Amendment. But by December 1791, the remaining ten amendments had been ratified—the Bill of Rights of today. Their distinct position, and the magic number ten—like another famous set of laws—ensured that they would “rouse the attention” of Americans, as Madison put it.

There had been bills of rights in English and American law for centuries, and the men who drafted the American Bill of Rights drew on these precedents. The right to petition (1st Amendment) and to trial by jury (6th Amendment) went back to Magna Carta (1215). The right to bear arms (2nd Amendment) and the prohibition of excessive bail and fines and of cruel and unusual punishments (8th Amendment) appear in the English Bill of Rights (1689). The Virginia Declaration of Rights (1776) enshrined freedom of the press and free exercise of religion (1st Amendment), and forbade arbitrary search warrants (6th Amendment) and compelling anyone to testify against himself (5th Amendment).

But the Bill of Rights added two brand-new provisions. The 9th amendment protects all “other” rights not specifically mentioned in the Constitution, while the 10th amendment “reserves” powers not assigned to the federal government to the states and to the people. These fortify the structural balance of the Constitution itself. They are a warning to the future: just because we haven’t thought of everything doesn’t mean you can grab for power.

Jefferson, as he often did, found just the right words to describe the impact of the Bill of Rights, which in this case came from his experience as an amateur architect: “a brace the more will often keep up the building which would have fallen” without it.

The Bill of Rights is a worthy addition to the great work that was done in Philadelphia in 1787.

Distinguished author and historian Richard Brookhiser is the author of James Madison; America’s First Dynasty about John Adam’s family; Gentleman Revolutionary, about Gouverneur Morris; and Alexander Hamilton, American.

 

May 31, 2011 – Amendment IX of the United States Constitution – Guest Essayist: Steven H. Aden, Senior Counsel, Alliance Defense Fund

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Amendment IX

“The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

Despite 220 years of constitutional interpretation, there really isn’t much one can say about the Ninth Amendment.  And that’s just what James Madison and the Framers intended.

The Ninth Amendment is that rare creature in American politics, a success story conceived in humility.  The first eight amendments of the Bill of Rights established freedom of worship, the freedoms of assembly, speech, press and petition, the rights to bear arms, to be free from government intrusions into citizens’ homes, to due process and to a jury of one’s peers, and many others.  Having penned what may have been the finest articulation of the rights of man in human history, Madison and his colleagues could have been forgiven for giving way to hubris and capping it with a rhetorical flourish.  Instead, they added a caution, by way of an afterthought.  The Ninth Amendment’s quiet caveat has done much more to protect fundamental rights from government encroachment than its humble phrasing would suggest.

The Bill of Rights exists because a compromise was required to satisfy the Anti-Federalists and States that were cautious about ratifying into existence a federal government of broad powers.  The Ninth Amendment exists because another compromise was necessary to satisfy those in the Federalist camp who believed that an enumeration of rights would tend to negate recognition of rights left unmentioned.  Madison, Alexander Hamilton and other Federalists contended that a Bill of Rights was unnecessary because the federal government’s powers were delineated by and limited to those set forth in Article I, Section 8 [link to John Baker’s blog on this provision  – http://constitutingamerica.org/category/analyzing-the-constitution-in-90-days-2011-project/article-i-section-08-clause-01/ ] Hamilton’s Federalist 84 queried, “Why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do?”  But the Anti-Federalists, led by Thomas Jefferson, prevailed, and history has affirmed their wisdom as through expansive interpretations of the Necessary and Proper Clause and the Commerce Clause the mantle of federal power has come to envelope virtually every aspect of life from the light bulbs in our ceilings to the “individual mandate” to purchase health insurance.  The enumeration of rights stands as a bulwark against that tide of federal authority in the sphere of private life, speech and conduct.  On the other hand, the Ninth Amendment lifts its staying hand against the argument that these rights, and only these, stand between the citizen and his seemingly omnipotent (and, with digital technology, increasingly omnipresent) government.

That the rights enumerated in the first eight amendments are not all the rights we possess may strike one at first as a challenging notion.  For rights that went unenumerated at the time, but became “self-evident” (in the words of the Declaration) much later, consider the right to be free, expressed in the Thirteenth Amendment prohibiting slavery (1865); the right to vote (Amendment XIV in 1870); and the right to vote for women, which came a half-century later (Amendment XIX in 1920).  Except for the salutary effect of the Ninth Amendment, it might have been presumed that no other fundamental human rights existed outside of those enumerated in 1789 – that the “canon of human rights” was closed, not subject to further elaboration through constitutional amendment.  Or perhaps what is worse, it might have been supposed that all “rights” secured by the people through amendment of the Constitution subsequent to the Founding were not “fundamental” human rights, but only positive political rights secured through an effective application of the Social Contract.  For unenumerated fundamental rights that have yet to be affirmed in the written constitution, consider the right of conscience; the right of parents to raise and educate their children outside of the government school system (unrecognized in parts of Europe and elsewhere), or the right to be free from genetic manipulation.

Mark Twain quipped, “Some compromise is essential between parties which are not omniscient.” Our generations, and generations to come, will have to struggle with the meaning of rights enumerated and unenumerated, and with the wisdom of further constitutional amendments.  Thankfully, because the two great forces in the making of the Constitution were willing to admit their fallibility and broker resolutions, we have the wisdom of the Bill of Rights, and the wisdom of the “Bill of Other Rights” – the Ninth Amendment.

Steven H. Aden is the Senior Counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, http://www.alliancedefensefund.org/ .

May 30, 2011 – Amendment VIII of the United States Constitution – Guest Essayist: Joerg Knipprath, Professor of Law at Southwestern Law School

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Amendment VIII

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

The text of the Eighth Amendment, concise and plain, masks the fluidity that the Supreme Court has assigned to its words. The more intensely scrutinized portion, by far, is the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishments. There are two applications that have been particularly significant in recent years, the constitutionality of the death penalty and the application of the amendment to “enhanced interrogations.”

It would be fatuous for opponents of the death penalty to claim that the Framers understood the death penalty to be unconstitutional. The Constitution’s text belies such an assertion, because the Fifth Amendment three times makes it plain that the death penalty is a proper punishment for crime: “No person shall be held to answer for a capital…crime, unless on…indictment of a Grand Jury…; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb…, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” Moreover, the common law at various times recognized capital punishment for a couple of hundred criminal offense.  Given the additional availability of whipping, branding, ear cropping, and other such forms of corporal chastisement, the Framers’ understanding of “cruel and unusual punishment” was restricted to those torturous punishments that stood out for their infliction of extended periods of particularly gruesome pain for no end other than the infliction of that pain, and that were applied with such extreme rarity as to undercut any realistic claim that they served a moral purpose such as retributive justice or moral reformation. An example would be the rarely-used, but then still available, punishment of drawing and quartering applied in exceptional treason cases in Britain.

To further the cause of modern death penalty abolitionists, the Court was obliged to impress upon the Eighth Amendment an interpretive mechanism that could supersede the specific textual recognition of the death penalty’s legitimacy. That mechanism is the judicial matrix of “evolving standards of societal decency” that would “guide” the Court’s interpretation of the Eighth Amendment.  Using “cruel” in a qualitative sense and “unusual” in a quantitative sense, this approach allows for a judicial finding that punishments that fall into comparative disuse, either by change in legislation or even through failure of prosecutors to seek the death penalty or of juries to impose it on a regular basis for certain crimes, become violations of the Eighth Amendment. Particularly galling to the opponents of this approach, such as Justice Scalia, is that the procedural hurdles created for the imposition of the penalty in past cases themselves are much to blame for the (comparatively) infrequent use of the death penalty.

Although the Court has not finally found the death penalty to violate the Eighth Amendment, the end is clear. Death penalty jurisprudence has been one instance of ad hoc judicial law-making after another.  Capital punishment, the Court once opined, is applied too haphazardly.  When states responded with mandatory death penalty laws and other restrictions on jury discretion, the Court found those wanting in that juries must be able to exercise discretion to impose the death penalty or not.  However, further decisions then determined that the jury discretion must be subject to specific guidance. Moreover, the judge must have the power to override a jury’s imposition of the death sentence, but not the other way around.  Juries must be able to hear any and all mitigating personal evidence for the defendant, dredging up every aspect of the defendant’s life that would place some blame for the crime, somehow, on some person other than the defendant.  On the other hand, aggravating evidence, such as about the victim whose life was snuffed out, had to be very carefully limited.

As to the “evolving standards of decency” test, the Court once declared that the Eighth Amendment must not cut off the normal democratic process. Yet, more recently, the Court, led by Justice Kennedy, has taken great pains to do just that, overturning laws that provided the death penalty for older juveniles who commit particularly heinous murders and for non-homicide crimes. Kennedy, in particular, while dutifully declaring the contrary, seems intent on imposing through the Constitution his own vision of the moral and “decent” society. The Court earlier pronounced that the “Eighth Amendment is not a ratchet, whereby a temporary consensus on leniency for a particular crime fixes a permanent constitutional maximum, disabling States from giving effect to altered beliefs and responding to changed social conditions.” Once more assuming the role of philosopher-king, Kennedy in the last capital punishment case, Kennedy v. Louisiana (2008), rejected the idea that the death penalty could be expanded (though, in fact, the law at issue there, capital punishment for aggravated child rape, did not “expand” the death penalty).  After all, that would not fit Kennedy’s Hegelian march of “evolving standards of decency…on the way to full progress and mature judgment.” So, there is only one direction of evolution, regardless of what the people might enact, one that leads, Kennedy all but assured the abolitionists, to the eventual demise of the death penalty.

In Roper v. Illinois (2005), the juvenile death penalty case, Justice Kennedy resorted to comparing the United States unfavorably with European systems, as well as with other, even less savory, exemplars of justice, and, as he has done in some other areas of constitutional law, invoked the decisions of his fellow Platonic guardians on tribunals overseas.  Due to the rebukes launched by Justice Scalia in his dissents, the Court is less inclined these days to feature that line of internationalist argumentation as a basis for guidance of the American Constitution in a direction Justice Kennedy finds to be more civilized.

International standards have also been used in attempts to limit the use of techniques to interrogate suspected terrorists. Leaving aside specific anti-torture statutes or treaty obligations, note that the Eighth Amendment itself only prohibits cruel and unusual “punishment.” Not only is this limited to torture and other extreme actions; the Court in past cases repeatedly has held that it applies only to punishment, not to other actions by the government. Hence the challenged behavior must be directed at “punishing” the individual. This distinction between punishment and other objectives in the use of force against prisoners is one long established in many Western systems of law, and one that the Framers clearly understood.

If a prisoner brings a claim that excessive force was used in violation of the Eighth Amendment, he must show that this was for the purpose of punishment. If the force or condition of confinement was for another purpose, the Eighth Amendment is not implicated.  Thus, the state of mind of the persons conducting the interrogation becomes important. Did they do so for purpose of discipline, security, or information gathering, or did they do so simply to punish? That state of mind can be demonstrated circumstantially by a number of factors, such as the asserted purpose of the treatment and the degree of force used in relation to the many varied circumstances that triggered the interrogation, an evaluation that implicates the proportionality principle that lurks in Eighth Amendment jurisprudence. Only if the actions go beyond the asserted disciplinary or investigatory needs, might the treatment amount to cruel and unusual punishment. As the Court has said in several cases, the prisoner must show that the government agent acted “maliciously and sadistically for the very purpose of causing harm.”

The prisoner might assert claims that the government violated Fourth Amendment standards against unreasonable searches and seizures, or, more likely, nebulous Fifth Amendment due process standards against treatment that “shocks the conscience.” Even if a foreign terror suspect kept overseas is entitled to those constitutional protections as a matter of right (an issue not resolved even by the Court’s Boumediene decision that, for the first time, granted such detainees access to the writ of habeas corpus), they might not help him.  The “shocks-the-conscience” test is particularly difficult to confine, and the Court employs a utilitarian approach. The Justices have made it clear that it is not just the severity of the method, but the degree of necessity for the challenged action, that will determine whether the consciences of at least five of them are shocked.  In any event, whether or not the justices are suitably shocked under the Fifth Amendment, the Eighth Amendment does not apply to careful methods used demonstrably for the purpose of extracting information.

An expert on constitutional law, Prof. Joerg W. Knipprath has been interviewed by print and broadcast media on a number of related topics ranging from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to presidential succession. He has written opinion pieces and articles on business and securities law as well as constitutional issues, and has focused his more recent research on the effect of judicial review on the evolution of constitutional law. He has also spoken on business law and contemporary constitutional issues before professional and community forums. Read more from Professor Knipprath at: http://www.tokenconservative.com/.

May 26, 2011 – Amendment VI of the United States Constitution – Guest Essayist: Marc. S. Lampkin, a Vice President at Quinn Gillespie

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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.

Perhaps more than any other Amendment, the 6th Amendment protects the liberties of the American people most directly.  It is so effective in carrying out this goal that most Americans give its protections little thought or consideration.

By setting up the framework which limits the ability of the government to arbitrarily accuse and incarcerate the citizens at large the 6th Amendment minimizes the likelihood that criminal charges will be filed against political enemies of the state. In America no one can be arrested, tried, sentenced and imprison without it occurring under a set of rules in public, with a written record that can be accessed by the public and members of the media.  Prior to the adoption of the 6th Amendment, these protections didn’t exist for large parts of Europe and Asia.

There are seven elements of the 6th Amendment:

 

Speedy Trial:  As recognized by the Supreme Court this provision has three obvious benefits to the accused

  1. To prevent a lengthy period of incarceration before a trial. In other words the accused won’t be giving unlimited detention without having been tried and convicted.
  2. To minimize the effects of a public accusation. Undue suffering from a false accusation shouldn’t occur for more than an absolute minimum amount of time.
  3. To ensure that too much time didn’t lapse making it harder for the accused to defend himself either as a result of death or sickness of witnesses or due to loss of memories by needed witnesses.

 

Public Trial: Under its terms the trial must be open to the public and accessible by the media.  Interestingly, this right predates English common law and possibly even the Roman legal system and has been thought to be essential to ensure that the government can’t use the court system as an instrument of persecution because the knowledge that every criminal trial is open and accessible to the public operates as an effective restraint.

Impartial Jury: Unlike a trial in which a judge or panel of judges make a decision, a jury trial is a legal proceeding in which the jurors make the decision.  Interestingly the size of the jury is universally assumed to be 12 but in state criminal trials it can be as few as 6 individuals and in Ancient Greece a criminal trial might include over 500 persons in the jury.  No matter the actual size, it is essential that the individuals who make up this jury be free of bias and prejudice.  They should be representative of the population at large from which the accused comes from but should not be his immediate family or close friends.

Notice of Accusation: It is not sufficient that the state merely take the time to accuse an individual.  The government must also inform the accused of the specific nature and cause of the accusation and do so in a way which makes it reasonably possible for the accused to mount a defense against the charge.  Additionally all of the charges must be outlined and must include all ingredients necessary to constitute a crime.

In other words, the government can’t secretly charge you with speeding or tax fraud and yet not let you know specifically how or when you committed the crimes.  They must be specific and precise in order to make it possible for you to explain, justify or otherwise defend yourself against the charges.

Confrontation: The right to directly question or cross-examine witnesses who have accused a defendant in front of the jury is a fundamental right which like the impartial jury and public trial requirement pre-dates the English legal system.  A variation of this right is referenced in the Book of Acts which describes the Roman governor Porcius Festus, discussing the proper treatment of his prisoner the Apostle Paul: “It is not the manner of the Romans to deliver any man up to die before the accused has met his accusers face-to-face, and has been given a chance to defend himself against the charges.”

Compulsory Process: Like the confrontation clause, the right of “Compulsory Process” protects Americans from unfair criminal accusations by allowing them to be able to obtain witnesses who can testify in open court on their behalf. Even if a witness does not wish to testify, compulsory process means that the state can subpoena him and force the witness to testify or be in contempt of court.  If a person did not have compulsory process, witnesses who know of your innocence but who simply didn’t wish to be involved could lead to a guilt conviction of an innocent person.  Embarrassment or fear are not legitimate excuses to avoid compulsory process because this right is designed to ensure the accused has the opportunity to present his strongest defense before the jury.

Counsel:  Perhaps the most meaningful of all of the 6th Amendment rights, is the right to select the attorney or counsel of your choice to represent you in a criminal case.  While much attention has been focused on the issue of when and whether every accused person must be provided with a minimally competent attorney, the framers felt that the greatest threat was not being able to hire the advocate of your choice.  As early as the year 1300 there was an advance trade made up of individuals who represented or advocated on behalf of accused individuals or individuals who needed to make special pleadings before the government.  At the time of the founding of the United States most of the colonies had adopted a policy of allowing accused individuals in all but the rarest cases the right to hire the counsel of their choice to aid in their defense.  In other words the framers emphasized the importance of the accused having the option either through his own resources or through that of his friends and family to hire the best and most talented advocate and to prevent this would be considered an injustice.  Even though modern litigation over this provision focuses more on the need to insure that every one is provided an attorney “even if they can not afford one” the greatest benefit of this provision is that every individual may choose to expend any or all of their resources to find the most capable lawyer they desire.

The 6th Amendment embodies much of the Founder’s concerns about the potential abuse of the individual by the government.  The founders were quite familiar with the list of abuses by the English monarch.  It is interesting to note that of the 26 rights mentioned in the first through the eighth amendments, 15 of them have something to do with criminal procedure and notably 7 of those 15 are found in this amendment.

Marc S. Lampkin is a Vice President at Quinn Gillespie

May 23, 2011 – Amendment III of the United States Constitution – Guest Essayist: Robert Chapman-Smith, Instructional Design Associate at the Bill of Rights Institute

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Amendment III

No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

In the realm of constitutional law, obscurity knows no better companion than the Third Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. No direct explication of the Amendment appears in the reams of opinions the Supreme Court has issued since 1789. In fact, save for Engblom v. Carey (1982), no explication offered by the whole of America’s judicial branch directly engages the tenets of the Amendment. And yet, the significance of the Third Amendment lives on as a jewel that has an inherent value which cannot be augmented or diminished by present-day utility.[1]

The common law lineage of the Third Amendment stretches deep into history. Early Anglo-Saxon legal systems held the rights of homeowners in high regard—viewing firth (or peace) to be not a general thing encompassing the entire community, but rather a specific thing comprised of “thousands of islands . . .  which surround the roof tree of every householder . . . .”[2] But Saxon-era legal institutions never had to contend with quartering issues. This is due primarily to the absence of standing armies and the reliance on fyrd—a militia to which all abled bodied men owed service for a period normally not to exceed forty days in a given year. Not until the Norman Conquests of 1066 did popular grievances against quartering (also known as billeting) begin to manifest.[3]

Attempts to codify provisions against quartering predate the Magna Carta—most notably appearing in 12th century charters like Henry I’s London Charter of 1131 and Henry II’s London Charter of 1155.[4] But early attempts to prevent involuntary quartering by law proved inadequate, especially as armed conflicts transitioned from feudal Saxon-era fyrds to monarchs hiring professional soldiers. Men of questionable character comprised the bulk of these mercenary armies. Kings pressed criminals into service in exchange for having crimes and misconduct forgiven. Though they fought well, these men would draw little distinction between friend and foe and would continually mistreat civilians.[5]

As time drew on, other efforts to quell quartering fell well short of success.[6] The problem compounded exponentially under Charles I, who engaged in expensive and wasteful wars that spanned across Europe. Charles I conducted these wars without receiving approval from Parliament. Parliament balked at the idea of financing Charles’ wars—forcing the soldiers in Charles’ army to seek refuge in private homes.[7] By 1627, the problem became severe enough that Parliament lodged a formal complaint against quartering in its “Petition of Right.”

But the “Petition of Right” did nothing to change quartering practices. During the English Civil War, both Royalists and Roundhead armies frequently abused citizens through quartering—despite the official proclamations that damned the practice. During the Third Anglo-Dutch war, conflicts between soldiers and citizens erupted over forced quartering.[8] In 1679, Parliament attempt to squelch concerns by passing the Anti-Quartering Act, which stated, “noe officer military or civil nor any other person whatever shall from henceforth presume to place quarter or billet any souldier or souldiers upon any subject or inhabitant of this realme . . . without his consent . . . .”[9] James II ignored the Act and the continued grievance over billeting helped propel England’s Glorious Revolution. Upon William II’s ascension to the throne, Parliament formulated a Declaration of Rights that accused James II of “quartering troops contrary to law.” Parliament also passed the Mutiny Act, which forbade soldiers from quartering in private homes without the consent of the owner. Parliament extended none of these limited protections to the colonies.[10]

In America, complaints against quartering began surfacing in the late 17th century. The 1683 Charter of Libertyes and Privileges passed by the New York Assembly demanded that “noe freeman shall be compelled to receive any marriners or souldiers into his house . . . provided always it be not in time of actuall warr in the province.”[11] The quartering problem in the colonies grew exponentially during the mid-18th century. The onset of the French-Indian War brought thousands of British soldiers onto American shores. Throughout much of Europe, the quartering issue had dwindled due to the construction of permanent barracks. Colonial legislatures recoiled at the thought of British soldiers having such accommodations and repeatedly denied British requests for lodging.

The close of the French-Indian War brought about even more challenges. In an attempt to push the cost of defending the colonial frontier onto the colonists, Parliament passed the Quartering Act of 1765. The Act stipulated that the colonies bear all the costs of housing troops. It also legalized troop use of private buildings if barracks and inns proved to be insufficient quarters. In an attempt to secure the necessary funding for maintaining the army, Parliament passed the Stamp Act—“as a result, the problems related to the quartering of soldiers became entwined with the volatile political issue of taxation without representation.”[12]

Quartering issues continued to surface, worsening gradually with each occurrence. In 1774, Paliament passed a second Quartering Act that was more arduous than the first. Due to its specific legalization of quartering in private homes, the second Quartering Act would become one of the “Intolerable Acts” lodged against the King and Parliament. Grievances against British quartering practices appeared in a series of declarations issued by the Continental Congress: the Declaration of Resolves, the Declaration of Causes and Necessities, and the Declaration of Independence.[13]

After successfully gaining independence from Britain, many states enacted new constitutions or bills of rights that offered protection against involuntary quartering. As had been the case in England, the quartering issue was entwined with the maintenance of a standing army. The 1787 Constitutional Convention, and the Constitution that arose from it, gave Congress the power to raise and support armies. The Constitution focused little attention on individual rights. That omission troubled many delegates both at the Convention in Philadelphia and at the ratification debates throughout the states.

Chief among the concerns pertaining to the military provisions of the Constitution was a fear that the new American government might be as oppressive as the British one it aimed to replace. As Patrick Henry noted:

“one of our first complaints, under the former government, was the quartering of troops upon us. This was one of the principal reasons for dissolving the connection with Great Britain. Here we may have troops in time of peace. They may be billeted in any manner—to tyrannize, oppress, and crush us.”[14]

The Anti-Federalists routinely stressed the Constitution’s lack of protection against standing armies and involuntary quartering. Many states echoed the concerns of the Anti-Federalists. Of the ninety types of provisions submitted to Congress, only seven appeared more frequently than provisions addressing quartering.

But James Madison and the Federalists viewed such provisions as unnecessary. Any Constitution that provides a democratic process for the maintenance of a standing army will, by consequence, solve any quartering issues that may arise. As Madison noted during the Virginia ratification debates:

“He says that one ground of complaint, at the beginning of the revolution, was, that a standing army was quartered upon us. This is not the whole complaint. We complained because it was done without the local authority of this country—without the consent of the people of America.”[15]

Madison also expressed skepticism about the need for a bill of rights. In a letter to Thomas Jefferson, Madison eschewed bills of rights as “parchment barriers” easily trampled by an overwhelming majority in a respective state.[16] Nevertheless, Madison took up the challenge of constructing a federal bill of rights and among his proposed amendments, which he derived from the previously mentioned state proposals, was an amendment addressing quartering.

The House debate on the Amendment was short. A few members wished to edit the text of the Amendment, imbuing in it a stronger protection of the homeowner, but all such measures were defeated and the Amendment became one of the ten enshrined in the Bill of Rights.[17]

As mentioned before, the Third Amendment is one of the least litigated provisions of the Constitution. Perhaps this lack of legal cases is due to the self-evident nature of the Amendment. As Justice Joseph Story notes, “this provision speaks for itself. Its plain object is to secure the prefect enjoyment of that great right of the common law, that a man’s house shall be his own castle, privileged against all civil and military intrusion.”[18] Yet the absence of litigation does not itself entail that the Amendment has at all times existed without violation.

Involuntary quartering on the part of United States soldiers appears to have happened during the War of 1812. While Congress did declare war on England, thus giving itself the authority to regulate quartering, it failed to provide any regulations governing the practice of billeting.[19] After the war, Congress did provide payment to those whose property was used “as a place of deposit for military or naval stores, or as barracks . . .”[20]

The Civil War brought about another instance of quartering under the Third Amendment—though its case is substantially more complicated than the War of 1812. Congress did not declare war on the Confederacy and it is unclear how periods of insurrection affect the Third Amendment’s distinction of peace and war. Regardless, even if a de facto state of war existed, Congress never issued any regulations governing the practice of quartering. Yet instances of the Union Army quartering in private homes appear in both loyal and rebel states.[21] The question of whether this action violated the Third Amendment is unsolved and is likely to remain so, as no Third Amendment case ever arose out of the Civil War era.

The lack of litigation and judicial action has left open some interesting questions about the applicability of the “self-evident” Third Amendment. One of these questions involves the Amendment’s applicability to the states.  Today, America’s troops enjoy barracks and accommodations so sufficient that it seems unlikely that troops would ever need to be garrisoned in a private home. Yet the question remains that, if an issue did somehow arise, would a state’s National Guard regimen be obligated to follow the Third Amendment (if no such provision existed in a state’s Constitution)? That question arose in 1982 with Engblom[22], yet the question still lacks a definitive answer.

Though it is sometimes ridiculed and is rarely discussed, the Third Amendment enshrines a right with a common law history as rich as any. Quartering abuses committed against the colonists propelled America into the Revolutionary War. After victory, the Founders worked to protect the public against any future abuses. The onset of the modern military tactics has seemingly thrown the usefulness of the Third Amendment into doubt, yet the Amendment still provides interesting and unanswered questions about federalism and the interaction of overlapping constitutional protections.


[1] This sentence paraphrases a metaphor from Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals in which Immanuel Kant describes a good will as “a jewel … which has its full value in itself. Its usefulness or fruitlessness can neither augment nor diminish this value.”

[2] Bell, Tom W.. “The Third Amendment: Forgotten but not Gone.” William and Mary Bill of Right’s Journal 1, no. (1993): 117-118.

[3] Fields, William S., Hardy, David T., “The Third Amendment and the Issue of the Maintenance of Standing Armies: A Legal History .” American Journal of Legal History 35, no. (1991): 395-397.

[4] English Historical Documents: 1042-1189, at 945 (David C. Douglas & George W. Greenway eds., 1953) (“Let no one be billeted within the walls of the city, either [a soldier of the King’s household] or by the force of anyone else.”)

[5] Fields & Hardy supra note 3 at 403

[6] The late Tudors had a bit of success expanding and improving the traditional militia system, but this system collapsed under James I, a pacifist who favored the repeal of militia statutes.

[7] Hardy, B. Camron. “A Free People’s Intolerable Grievance: The Quartering of Troops and the Third Amendment.” Virginia Calvacade 33, no. 3 (1984): 127

[8] Fields & Hardy supra note 3 at 403 – 405

[9] Great Britain. Statutes of Great Britain. London: , 1950. Print.

[10] Bell supra note 2 at 123

[11] Schwartz,Bernard. Roots of the Bill of Rights. Bernard Schwartz. 1980

[12] Fields & Hardy supra note 3 at 417

[13] Id at 417-18

[14] The Founder’s Constitution. 1 ed. 5, Amendments I-XII. Philip B. Kurland and Ralph Lerner. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, Inc., 217

[15] Id

[16] Fields & Hardy supra note 2 at 424

[17] Kurland & Lerner supra note 14 at 217-18

[18] Id at 218

[19] Bell supra note 2 at 136

[20] Little, Charles. “Statues at Large Vol. 3.” A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774 – 1875 . Available from http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/amlaw/lwsllink.html. Internet; accessed 22 May 2011.

[21] Bell supra note 2 at 137

[22] Id at 141-142

 

Robert Chapman-Smith is the Instructional Design Associate at the Bill of Rights Institute, an education non-profit based in Arlington, Virginia. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from Hampden-Sydney College.