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

Juries “of the Vicinage”

Problems of Definition

When Madison proposed his draft Bill of Rights in the First Congress, he largely adopted the wording from Virginia. He suggested that criminal trials shall be decided “by an impartial jury of freeholders of the vicinage.” The House struck out the “freeholders” requirement but otherwise left the wording intact. Only one member of the House had objected to the word “vicinage.” In the Senate, however, the guarantee ran aground. According to a letter by Madison, many Senators had believed that the “vicinage” requirement was “either too vague or too strict a term.” Different states had different notions about how broad an area could be encompassed by the “vicinage” of a crime. Besides, Congress was already in the process of crafting a Judiciary Bill which would largely address this problem, albeit not constitutionally. The Senate chose to strike the language altogether. If they had gotten their way, then what would ultimately become the 6th Amendment would have made no mention of juries at all. 

Although the Senate had struck out many other amendments proposed by the House without creating any backlash, this jury trial provision was important enough that the House resisted the Senate’s attempts to delete it. A reconciliation committee between the two Houses adopted the final language of the 6th Amendment: “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.” This language was precise enough to quiet the fears of many of the Antifederalists, but it was broad enough to allow some discretion to Congress.