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Sixth Amendment Court Cases -
Right to Trial by Jury Clause

Each of these Sixth Amendment Court Cases is somehow significant to the way the Supreme Court has interpreted the Right to Trial by Jury Clause in the Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution. Well, most are significant, some are just interesting! You can read about the history and meaning of the Sixth Amendment here.




Sixth Amendment Court Cases

Sixth Amendment Court Cases - Right to Trial by Jury Clause cases -
Williams vs. Florida

United States Supreme Court Building
Supreme Court
of the United States
In a case called Williams vs. Florida, 1970, the Supreme Court changed its previously held position, a position held for over 150 years, that a jury did not have to be made up of twelve people. This was a case about a thief who had been tried by a six person Florida jury. The thief claimed his right to trial by jury had been violated because the jury did not consist of twelve members.

The Court disagreed. The Court recognized that a jury had always had twelve people, but said neither the 6th Amendment Right to Trial by Jury Clause, nor any other mentions of trial by jury in the Constitution or in the writings of the Founding Fathers, said anything about the necessary size of the jury. Instead, the Court said the Founding Fathers intent was on the purpose of the jury, not the size. About the size of the jury, the Court stated that:

"...the number should probably be large enough to promote group deliberation, free from outside attempts at intimidation, and to provide a fair possibility for obtaining a representative cross-section of the community. But we find little reason to think that these goals are in any meaningful sense less likely to be achieved when the jury numbers six than when it numbers 12 -- particularly if the requirement of unanimity is retained. And, certainly the reliability of the jury as a factfinder hardly seems likely to be a function of its size."

The court did not set a lower size limit on a jury in this case. It just established that a jury did not have to have twelve people to satisfy the Right to Trial by Jury Clause.

Sixth Amendment Court Cases - Right to Trial by Jury Clause cases -
Ballew vs. Georgia

In Ballew vs. Georgia, 1978, the Court did set a lower limit on the size of juries. The Court concluded that a five person jury would not satisfy the Right to Trial by Jury Clause because with such a small jury it would be harder to fulfill the requirements listed in Williams vs. Florida such as promoting group deliberation, preventing outside intimidation and accurately representing a cross-section of the community.

Sixth Amendment Court Cases - Right to Trial by Jury Clause cases -
Taylor vs. Louisiana

In Taylor vs. Louisiana, 1975, the Court made a judgment about the makeup of juries. Louisiana had a provision that allowed men to serve on juries freely, but women could serve on juries only if they had notified the government that they were interested in serving on a jury. This caused most juries to consist of men only.

In 1975, the defendant was convicted by an all male jury and claimed that his 6th Amendment right to trial by jury had been violated because the jury did not adequately represent a cross-section of the local community.

Justice Byron White wrote in the Court's decision:

"The requirement that a petit jury be selected from a representative cross-section of the community, which is fundamental to the jury trial guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment, is violated by the systematic exclusion of women from jury panels, which in the judicial district here involved amounted to 53% of the citizens eligible for jury service."

Consequently, the Court threw out the guilty verdict. By the way, a petit jury refers to any trial jury, as opposed to a grand jury, which does not try cases, but delivers indictments. Petit, of course, means small. So, petit jury - grand jury. Get it? You can read more about grand juries on the Grand Jury Clause page here.

Sixth Amendment Court Cases - Right to Trial by Jury Clause cases -
Blakely vs. Washington

The Supreme Court's decision in a 2004 case called Blakely vs. Washington sent shockwaves throughout the state and federal judicial systems. In this case a man was given a 90 year sentence for kidnapping his estranged wife. This sentence fit within the federal government's sentencing guidelines. However, the facts, as determined by the jury, only called for a maximum sentence of 53 years.

The defendant claimed that his 6th Amendment right to have a jury determine the facts of which he was guilty had been violated. The Court agreed. Justice Antonin Scalia made this statement in the Court's opinion, referring to an earlier case in the state of Washington:

"When a judge imposes an exceptional sentence, he must set forth findings of fact and conclusions of law supporting it. A reviewing court will reverse the sentence if it finds that "under a clearly erroneous standard there is insufficient evidence in the record to support the reasons for imposing an exceptional sentence."

Consequently, the Court threw out the lengthy sentence. The Blakely case threw the judiciary into confusion because many, many sentences were determined in the same way the judge in this case determined the sentence. Some people thought the entire federal sentencing guidelines would have to be redrawn and many people already sentenced and serving time would have to be resentenced. Justice Scalia made clear in his ruling that the jury must determine the facts of which the criminal is accused. He also said that this did not eliminate the judge's ability to increase the length of the sentence, as long as there were specific facts to justify the length, and as long as the sentence did not go past the maximum federal guidelines.

Read more about the history and meaning of the Right to Trial by Jury Clause here.
Read more about the history and meaning of the 6th Amendment here.

Learn more about Sixth Amendment Court Cases relating to the following Sixth Amendment clauses:

Sixth Amendment Court Cases - Speedy Trial Clause
Sixth Amendment Court Cases - Public Trial Clause
Sixth Amendment Court Cases - Arraignment Clause
Sixth Amendment Court Cases - Confrontation Clause
Sixth Amendment Court Cases - Compulsory Process Clause
Sixth Amendment Court Cases - Right to Counsel Clause


Thanks for reading about these Sixth Amendment Court Cases with
Revolutionary War and Beyond!


If you would like to read about the meanings of each amendment, go to the First Ten Amendments page here.

Amendments:

Preamble to the Bill of Rights
Learn about the 1st Amendment here.
Learn about the 2nd Amendment here.
Learn about the 3rd Amendment here.
Learn about the 4th Amendment here.
Learn about the 5th Amendment here.
Learn about the 6th Amendment here.
Learn about the 7th Amendment here.
Learn about the 8th Amendment here.
Learn about the 9th Amendment here.
Learn about the 10th Amendment here.

Read the Bill of Rights here.







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