The First Freedoms
The Privacy Amendments
The 5th Amendment
The 6th Amendment
Civil Trials
The Interpretive Rules

Speedy and Public Trial, Impartial Jury, and Being Informed of the Accusation

Guaranteeing an Impartial Jury

From 1807 to Today

Since the adoption of the 6th Amendment, the courts have leaned in the direction of desiring impartiality in its jurors over the benefits of prior knowledge of the principals’ characters. In one important early case, United States v. Burr (1807), Chief Justice John Marshall declared: “Were it possible to obtain a jury without any prepossessions whatever respecting the guilt or innocence of the accused, it would be extremely desirable to obtain such a jury; but this is perhaps impossible, and therefore will not be required.” A juror who had previously advanced opinions about the prisoner’s guilt on material points of the charge, however, “is good cause of challenge.” 

Today, if a defendant argues that a local jury would be biased—perhaps influenced by media coverage about his case, for example—then a judge may decide that the 6th Amendment requires a change of venue to seat a more impartial jury. In addition, current interpretations of the 6th Amendment have stressed that it is not only important to select individual jurors who have no previous biases about the case, but that juries, to be truly impartial, must be representative of society as a whole. Juries at the time of the Founding were almost always comprised of white, property-owning men. Today, courts require that juries be more inclusive.