Is the Sixth Amendment going extinct?

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BRATTLEBORO — On Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Brooks Memorial Library, 224 Main St., the Debating Our Rights series considers whether the Sixth Amendment is on the verge of extinction. The Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to a jury trial, including the right to face one's accusers. Over the last 50 years, the number of criminal defendants who take their case to court has steadily eroded. According to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, only 3 percent of state and federal cases now go to a jury trial. The rest end in plea bargains.

Meg Mott, who has taught politics and law at Marlboro College for the past 20 years, uses history and political theory to consider the role of each Amendment in the context of the American scheme of justice. "The Sixth Amendment is a particularly tragic Amendment," says Mott. "Juries have always been understood to play a crucial role in defending liberty against an over-zealous prosecutor. With fewer cases going to trial, fewer citizens are weighing and considering the claims of the State. We're losing a key bulwark against arbitrary and capricious use of government power. Trial by jury is being replaced by a system of guilty pleas."

Thanks to the Friends of Brooks Memorial Library, the Debating Our Rights series is free and open to the public. The library is accessible to all. For more information, call the reference desk at 802-254-5290, ext. 1220.

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