USA > US Constitution > 6th Amendment > Rights of Accused in Criminal Prosecutions



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.



Criminal prosecutions in the District of Columbia1 and in incorporated territories2 must conform to this Amendment, but those in the unincorporated territories need not do so.3 In upholding a trial before a United States consul of a United States citizen for a crime committed within the jurisdiction of a foreign nation, the Court specifically held that this Amendment reached only citizens and others within the United States or who were brought to the United States for trial for alleged offenses committed elsewhere, and not to citizens residing or temporarily sojourning abroad.4 It is clear that this holding no longer is supportable after Reid v. Covert,5 but it is not clear what the constitutional rule is. All of the rights guaranteed in this Amendment are so fundamental that they have been made applicable against state abridgment by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.6chanrobles-red

1 Callan v. Wilson, 127 U.S. 540 (1888).

2 Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145 (1879). See also Lovato v. New Mexico, 242 U.S. 199 (1916).

3 Balzac v. Puerto Rico, 258 U.S. 298, 304-05 (1922); Dorr v. United States, 195 U.S. 138 (1904). These holdings are, of course, merely one element of the doctrine of the Insular Cases, De Lima v. Bidwell, 182 U.S. 1 (1901); and Downes v. Bidwell, 182 U.S. 244 (1901), concerned with the "Constitution and the Advance of the Flag," supra. Cf. Rassmussen v. United States, 197 U.S. 516 (1905).

4 In re Ross, 140 U.S. 453 (1891).

5 354 U.S. 1 (1957) (holding that civilian dependents of members of the Armed Forces overseas could not constitutionally be tried by court-martial in time of peace for capital offenses committed abroad). Four Justices, Black, Douglas, Brennan, and Chief Justice Warren, disapproved Ross as "resting . . . on a fundamental misconception" that the Constitution did not limit the actions of the United States Government wherever it acted, id. at 5-6, 10-12, and evinced some doubt with regard to the Insular Cases as well. Id. at 12-14. Justices Frankfurter and Harlan, concurring, would not accept these strictures, but were content to limit Ross to its particular factual situation and to distinguish the Insular Cases. Id. at 41, 65. Cf. Middendorf v. Henry, 425 U.S. 25, 33-42 (1976) (declining to decide whether there is a right to counsel in a court-martial, but ruling that the summary court-martial involved in the case was not a "criminal prosecution" within the meaning of the Amendment).

6 Citation is made in the sections dealing with each provision.

Offenses Against the United States. — There are no common-law offenses against the United States. Only those acts which Congress has forbidden, with penalties for disobedience of its command, are crimes.7 Actions to recover penalties imposed by act of Congress generally but not invariably have been held not to be criminal prosecutions,8 as is true also of deportation proceedings,9 but contempt proceedings which were at one time not considered to be criminal prosecutions are no longer within that category.10 To what degree Congress may make conduct engaged in outside the territorial limits of the United States a violation of federal criminal law is a matter not yet directly addressed by the Court.11chanrobles-red

7 United States v. Hudson & Goodwin, 11 U.S. (7 Cr.) 32 (1812); United States v. Coolidge, 14 U.S. (1 Wheat.) 415 (1816); United States v. Britton, 108 U.S. 199, 206 (1883); United States v. Eaton, 144 U.S. 677, 687 (1892).

8 Oceanic Navigation Co. v. Stranahan, 214 U.S. 320 (1909); Hepner v. United States, 213 U.S. 103 (1909); United States v. Regan, 232 U.S. 37 (1914).

9 United States ex rel. Turner v. Williams, 194 U.S. 279, 289 (1904); Zakonaite v. Wolf, 226 U.S. 272 (1912).

10 Compare In re Debs, 158 U.S. 564 (1895), with Bloom v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 194 (1968).

11 See United States v. Bowman, 260 U.S. 94 (1922) (treating question as a matter of statutory interpretation); NATIONAL COMMISSION ON REFORM OF FEDERAL CRIMINAL LAWS, WORKING PAPERS 69-76 (1970). Congress has recently asserted the authority by criminalizing various terrorist acts committed abroad against U.S. nationals. See, e.g., prohibitions against hostage taking and air piracy contained in Pub. L. No. 98-473, ch. XX; 18 U.S.C.� 1203 and 49 U.S.C. app. �� 1471, 72; and prohibitions against killing or doing physical violence to a U.S. national abroad contained in Pub. L. No. 99-399, � 1202(a), 100 Stat. 896 (1986); 18 U.S.C. � 2331. Extraterritorial jurisdiction under the hostage taking and air piracy laws was upheld by an appeals court in United States v. Yunis, 924 F.2d 1086 (D.C. Cir. 1991).

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