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

Local Juries

Outrage in Virginia

With another look at Article III, Section II, one can see that, prior to the adoption of the Bill of Rights, the Constitution only required that a criminal trial be held “in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed.” That was not good enough. In the Massachusetts Ratifying Convention, one delegate warned that, if criminal trials were held at too great a distance, the accused may “be incapable of making such a defence as he is, in justice, entitled to.” The question of a trial’s “vicinage” was likewise a stumbling block in the North and South Carolina Conventions. But nowhere did this issue cause greater outrage than in Virginia.

Virginia’s Congressman Richard Henry Lee wrote to its Governor, Edmund Randolph, that the Constitution “stated that, in criminal cases, the trial shall be by jury. But how? In the state. What, then, becomes of the jury of the vicinage, or at least from the county, in the first instance—the states being from fifty to seven hundred miles in extent?” Patrick Henry expressed that same objection in Virginia’s Ratifying Convention, reminding his colleagues that “this state, for instance, is so large that your juries may be collected five hundred miles from where the party resides.” 

Edmund Randolph and James Madison both countered that the Framers of the Constitution had guaranteed all that they believed was safe and practicable in regards to jury trials. What remained to be done must be “left to the discretion of the legislature to modify it according to circumstances.” Virginia’s delegates must have been unconvinced, for they formally recommended that the Constitution be amended to guarantee that the accused shall have the right “to a fair and speedy trial by an impartial jury of his vicinage.”