Why does the U.S. Constitution spend so much time protecting criminals? Part 2

The fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth amendments to the Constitution are to protect those accused of crimes. Part 2 will explore the sixth, seventh and eighth amendments.

The fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth amendments to the U.S. Constitution are to protect those accused of crimes. Why do you think so many amendments of the Bill of Rights are to protect those accused of crimes? Why do they get so little attention today?

The following questions are meant to have a good discussion with youth about personal rights. “Why does the U.S. Constitution spend so much time protecting criminals? Part 1” explored questions to ask regarding the fourth and fifth amendments. This can be done within a family, as part of school activities, a 4-H club or with any group working with young people. Encourage a robust dialogue about these issues, and encourage young people to find data to back up their opinions. During the discussion, try to limit interjecting your own opinions and let the youth discuss it among themselves.

How do you think the early times of the United States were different for criminals or those accused of crimes compared to today? How do you think the law enforcement and court systems was different? Do you think the relevance of these rights have changed over time?

The sixth amendment states, “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.”

A simplified version of this might be, “If you are accused of a crime, the following must happen:

  • The trial should be fast.
  • You should have a jury that lives where the crime happened.
  • The jury should be impartial.
  • You have to be told what you are accused of.
  • You have a right to confront your accuser.
  • You can force people to testify.
  • You can get a lawyer, even if you can’t afford one.”

There are many protections in this amendment. What is a speedy and public trial? How long should a person have to wait? When does an area need to hire more judges and take on that additional tax expense? Twenty-four hours? A week? A month? A year?

This amendment also allows the court to force witnesses to come to court. If you were a witness to a crime, do you think it is fair the government can force you, with a subpoena, to come to a trial? Should it matter if you don’t like the accused?

This amendment also allows for everyone to have a lawyer provided for them. Do you think a lawyer provided by the court would do as good of a job as an expensive lawyer? Is this fair? What do you think is the responsibility of the government to pay for a high quality lawyer?

The seventh amendment states, “In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.”

A simplified summary might be, “You get a trial by jury. If you appeal the case, the facts found by the jury are not debated, only the interpretation of the law.”

How do you think a trial by jury differs from a trial by a judge? Would one be preferable over the other? Do you think you should be able to re-try the facts of a court case, rather than just the law as this amendment states?

The eighth amendment states, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”

Do you know what bail is? Should the amount of bail change based on the crime? Should it change based on how wealthy a defendant is? If you were accused of a crime, and were in jail awaiting a trial, how much bail would be excessive for you?

What is an excessive fine? If someone stole a car worth $10,000, should the fine be more, less or exactly that amount? If a bank violated a law and it caused people to lose $1 million, what should their fine be? Legally, can they include that fine on their taxes as a business expense?

What is a cruel and unusual punishment? Does this amendment limit a judge’s creativity in reducing crime? Is ordering a father who owes back child support to get a vasectomy cruel and unusual? How about requiring thieves to hold up a sign? Or requiring someone convicted of animal cruelty to wear a dog costume? Or requiring noisy teenagers to listen to Barry Manilow?

Hopefully, these questions will get some good discussion going about personal rights. If you have some great ideas, share them with your local county, city or township, or your state or federal legislators.

To learn about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth leadership, citizenship and service and global and cultural education programs, read our 2016 Impact Report: “Developing Civically Engaged Leaders.” Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways Michigan State University Extension and Michigan 4-H have positively impacted individuals and communities in 2016, can be downloaded from the MSU Extension website.

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