The right to a fair trial, is a fundamental right guaranteed by the United States Constitution under the Sixth Amendment. This right is extended to states through the Fourteenth Amendment. In Missouri, Article I, Section 18(a) of the Missouri Constitution applies to this right.
Although this right is “guaranteed”, there are restrictions and exceptions, depending on the circumstances. In essence, there are no absolutes. These rights include:
- To Appear and Defend in Person or By Counsel
- Notice of “Proper/Valid” Charges
- “Effective” Assistance of Counsel: Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), is the case establishing the standard used when an accused has received inadequate performance by his/her counsel.
- Speedy Trial
- See Barker v. Wingo, 407 U.S. 514 (1972)
- Strunk v. U.S., 412 U.S. 434 (1973)
- State v. Kirksey, 713 S.W.2d 841 (Mo. App. 1986)
Courts look at the following factors to determine if the right to a speedy trial has been violated:
- Length of the delay
- Reason for the delay
- Defendant’s assertion to his right to a speedy trial
- Prejudice to the defendant resulting from the delay
- Public Trial (not always guaranteed, Sheppard v. Maxwell, 384 U.S. 333 (1966)
- Right to a Trial
- 6 or More – Unanimous Verdict
- Unbiased jurors
- Fair cross-section of the community
- Jury of Your Peers
- Sentencing with restrictions
- Confront Your Witnesses:
Hearsay testimony is allowed in some cases.
- Use of the Compulsory Process:
In certain situations, the judge could refuse to compel certain witnesses to appear on your behalf.
Historically, in a criminal trial, a jury consisted of 12 members who must return a unanimous verdict. If there are less than six members, a unanimous verdict is not necessary.
A jury panel, when selected, should be composed of people who could be fair, impartial, listen to all of the evidence and not be swayed by whether they like the prosecutor, police officers and judges, more than the accused and/or their attorney.
In the past, women and people of color were denied citizenship, the right to vote, equal access to education, own property, among others and the ability to serve as jurors. Supposedly, the jury should be taken from a fair cross section of the community and composed of a jury of your peers. In the case of Strauder v. West Virginia, 100 U.S. 303 (1880), for the first time, this court reversed a state court on a constitutional violation of criminal procedure – categorical exclusions of black men from serving on juries. The court held that black men were allowed to serve on juries, because a composition of the panel should consist of “[his] neighbors, fellows, associates…trial by the peers.” Unfortunately, this case still allowed the exclusion of women as jurors. In 1870, Wyoming allowed women to serve on juries and Kansas in 1912. Missouri lagged behind and still inquired about the right of women jurors in 1927 in the law review article by E. M. Grossman and George A. McNulty, “Right of Women to Serve on Juries in Missouri”, 12 St. Louis L. Rev. 138 (1927).
Who are considered the peers of juveniles certified as adults or those accused individuals suffering from mental health issues? Is an all male jury or female jury fair as in the case of State of Florida v. George Zimmerman? Should the composition be based solely upon the accused’s race, gender, sexual orientation, employment, upbringing, economic status, etc.” These are questions that can be posed to the jurors during voir dire (jury selection), sure, but is that enough?
Is a trial fair when the accused does not have enough arsenal in resources (attorneys, investigators, law clerks, legal researchers, doctors, and other experts) to defend themselves against the army (United States, police officers, detectives, FBI agents, labs, experts) led by attorney generals and prosecutors?
Regarding the right to a trial during sentencing, in Missouri, it depends on the type of case and the prior offenses of the accused, in determining their right to a jury trial during the sentencing phase.
A fair trial is a fundamental right with numerous exceptions. It is our duty to protect and defend our rights and the rights of those who lack the voice to be heard.