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Know Your Rights: Fair and Impartial Trial

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 . . ." [1791]

What does it mean to have a speedy trial? Why public? What does it mean to be "impartial" as a jury? Are people of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed "a jury of peers"?

The "speed" of a trial is determined by statute, and where a defendant requires more time for whatever reason, time can be waived. The waiver has its limits, though. Other considerations are weighed by the Court in the interests of justice, including how delays might prejudice the state or the alleged victim. Given the defendant-centered nature of constitutional rights and the presumption of innocence, one has to wonder if such considerations are appropriate.

Public trials are necessary and serve a good purpose. The state should be subject to scrutiny where it seeks to deprive one of its members of life, liberty or property, as the state is intended to be the servant of the public and the service it renders should be justice. There are strange dynamics that occur, however, under such a system. We see that sometimes such public forums are greeted with apathy, turned into a circus ring, or perhaps made a spectacle of politics.

And how does one find an impartial jury? We are complicated beings. We bring varied histories and biases to any interaction. The matters of these histories and biases are all the more important when a jury, as a collective, act as triers-of-fact to determine whether or not someone committed a crime.

Can a juror, as the victim of a crime, sit impartially in judgment of a person accused? Do hurt feelings and anger at having been victimized create a desire to punish? This is where the selection process known as voir dire can be an invaluable tool of direct inquiry of potential jurors. Voir dire allows for sifting bad jurors from good in order to make the process of a jury trial fair. Or perhaps more fair than it might otherwise be.

Ask yourself: who is my peer? If an offense is alleged against an African American male in a rural, predominantly Caucasian community, is he being tried by his peers? If a Caucasian police officer is charged with the murder of an unarmed, African American motorist in a precinct which is predominantly African American, is he being tried by a jury of his peers? Can either get a fair trial? Is it fair to think he might not? What is "fair"? Note well, the Amendment does not use the word "peers".

Know your rights. Contact an attorney.

John C. Kaspar, Esq., Gray and Duning, (513) 932-2871.

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