Amendments V and VI

Document 29

Zephaniah Swift, A System of Laws of the State of Connecticut 2:398--99


The attorney for the state then proceeds to lay before the jury, all the evidence against the prisoner, without any remarks or arguments. The prisoner by himself or counsel, is then allowed to produce witnesses to counteract and obviate the testimony against him; and to exculpate himself with the same freedom as in civil cases. We have never admitted that cruel and illiberal principle of the common law of England that when a man is on trial for his life, he shall be refused counsel, and denied those means of defence, which are allowed, when the most trifling pittance of property is in question. The flimsy pretence, that the court are to be counsel for the prisoner will only highten our indignation at the practice: for it is apparent to the least consideration, that a court can never furnish a person accused of a crime with the advice, and assistance necessary to make his defence. This doctrine might with propriety have been advanced, at the time when by the common law of England, no witnesses could be adduced on the part of the prisoner, to manifest his innocence, for he could then make no preparation for his defense. One cannot read without horror and astonishment, the abominable maxims of law, which deprived persons accused, and on trial for crimes, of the assistance of counsel, except as to points of law, and the advantage of witnesses to exculpate themselves from the charge. It seems by the ancient practice, that whenever a person was accused of a crime, every expedient was adopted to convict him and every privilege denied him, to prove his innocence. In England, however, as the law now stands, prisoners are allowed the full advantage of witnesses, but excepting in a few cases, the common law is enforced, in denying them counsel, except as to points of law.

Our ancestors, when they first enacted their laws respecting crimes, influenced by the illiberal principles which they had imbibed in their native country, denied counsel to prisoners to plead for them to anything but points of law. It is manifest that there is as much necessity for counsel to investigate matters of fact, as points of law, if truth is to be discovered.

The legislature has become so thoroughly convinced of the impropriety and injustice of shackling and restricting a prisoner with respect to his defence, that they have abolished all those odious laws, and every person when he is accused of a crime, is entitled to every possible privilege in making his defence, and manifesting his innocence, by the instrumentality of counsel, and the testimony of witnesses.

The Founders' Constitution
Volume 5, Amendments V and VI, Document 29
The University of Chicago Press

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