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What Does the Sixth Amendment Mean? To Whom Does It Apply?

Directions

Read each section then answer the accompanying questions.

Background Information

When the Constitution was first written, some people thought that it lacked provisions to protect the public from a potentially abusive government. These people insisted that a Bill of Rights be added to it. James Madison was commissioned to write this document. His original draft contained twelve amendments, one of which included a stipulation that the Bill of Rights would apply to the states. He thought that amendment was one of the most important amendments. Others disagreed with him, arguing that because many state constitutions had their own Bills of Rights, it would not be necessary to protect citizens from abuse at the hands of the state governments. The amendment was rejected and it was clear to most people that the Bill of Rights did not apply to the states.

Then, in 1868, when the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified, some people argued that it meant that the Bill of Rights applied to the states, while others insisted that it did not. This became the subject of intense debate for years to come. The scope of the Sixth Amendment, which appears below, was part of that debate.

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.

Questions to Consider
  1. This amendment and the other amendments in the Bill of Rights were originally written to protect citizens from which level of government? 
  2. Which of these Sixth Amendment rights did Gideon claim had been violated by the State of Florida? 
  3. What does "the Assistance of Counsel" mean? In what sense was Gideon permitted to have the "Assistance of Counsel"? In what sense was he denied it? 
  4. How could the State of Florida justify denying Gideon's request to appoint a lawyer for him? 

Amendment XIV
Section 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.

Questions to Consider
  1. Which clauses in the Fourteenth Amendment could be interpreted to mean that the Sixth Amendment "Assistance of Counsel" applies to the states? 
  2. What information could the State of Florida use to argue that the Sixth Amendment "Assistance of Counsel" does not apply to the states?

Conclusion

You are a Supreme Court justice. You have considered Gideon's appeal and now must make a decision. Is the State of Florida required to give Gideon a lawyer free of charge? In answering this question, consider the following: Does the Sixth Amendment apply to the states? If so, what does the clause "Assistance of Counsel" mean? Does it mean that states must not forbid a defendant from having a lawyer or that they provide a defendant with a lawyer free of charge? Explain your reasoning.

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