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 defence.
Like with other provisions of the Bill of Rights, the application of the Sixth Amendment evolved. In considering a bill of rights in August 1789, the House of Representatives adopted a proposal to guarantee a right to a jury trial in state prosecutions, 1 but the Senate rejected the proposal, and the 1869 case of Twitchell v. Commonwealth ended any doubt that the states were beyond the direct reach of the Sixth Amendment. 2 The reach of the Amendment thus being then confined to federal courts, questions arose as to its application in federally established courts not located within a state. The Court found that criminal prosecutions in the District of Columbia 3 and in incorporated territories 4 must conform to the Amendment, but those in the unincorporated territories need not. 5 Under the Consular cases, of which the leading case is In re Ross, the Court at one time held that the Sixth Amendment reached only citizens and others within the United States or brought to the United States for trial, and not to citizens residing or temporarily sojourning abroad. 6 Reid v. Covert made this holding inapplicable to proceedings abroad by United States authorities against American civilians. 7 Further, though not applicable to the states by the Amendment's terms, the Court has come to protect all the rights guaranteed in the Sixth Amendment against state abridgment through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. 8
The Sixth Amendment applies in criminal prosecutions. Only those acts that Congress has forbidden, with penalties for disobedience of its command, are crimes. 9 Actions to recover penalties imposed by act of Congress generally but not invariably have been held not to be criminal prosecutions, 10 nor are deportation proceedings, 11, nor appeals or post-conviction applications for collateral relief, 12 but contempt proceedings, which at one time were not considered criminal prosecutions, are now considered to be criminal prosecutions for purposes of the Amendment. 13