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Vail Law: The Bill of Rights is model of brevity in protecting our freedom

Rohn RobbinsVail, CO, Colorado

The Bill of Rights: A model of brevityThe Eighth Amendment is just one sentence long””””Vail Law bug””””’In the last week’s part of this series, we took a look at the first five Amendments that constitute the Bill of Rights, the first 10 Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which spell out the personal rights, freedoms and privileges of the individual.Here’s a look at Amendments six through 10.The Sixth Amendment grants the right to a speedy trial. Someone accused of a crime has the right to have the matter heard quickly, rather than languish in the netherworld of unproven accusation or rot in a gulag. Similarly, the Amendment guarantees that trial shall be held before an impartial jury, a jury of one’s peers. The accused has the right to be tried where the alleged crime or crimes took place, to be informed of all charges against him, and to be confronted by the witnesses arrayed against him. The Amendment guarantees as well that the accused will have a process for obtaining witnesses in his favor and shall be entitled to the assistance of legal counsel in his defense.The Seventh Amendment concerns the right to have civil matters redressed in a court of law before a jury. It also holds that no fact tried by such a jury shall be otherwise examined in any court of the United States unless according to the rules of common law. In other words, the jury’s findings of fact shall be inviolate and appeal shall proceed, if at all, according to established rules of law. Among other safeguards, this Amendment assures that an aggrieved person may not “forum shop,” going from court to court until he obtains the justice he seeks. As a general rule, you get one crack at the coconut of trial and, except upon appeal (which considers only issues of procedural error), you are bound by the determinations of the trier of fact. Just one sentenceThe Eighth Amendment is composed of a single sentence: “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel or unusual punishments inflicted.” ! In a mere 16 words, the Amendment says a legal mouthful, about which volumes in interpretation have been written. These are, again, protections afforded the citizenry against prosecutorial zealotry and excess. In plain language, the bail set in criminal matters must be reasonable, as must whatever fines are imposed, whether pecuniary or corporeal. This Amendment is, of course, “ground zero” of the debate that has swirled about propriety of capital punishment.Amendment Number nine is as brief as a string bikini at spring break. Its scant 21 words hold the essence of our Constitutional form of government. The Amendment provides that the enumeration of certain rights expressed within the Constitution shall not be construed to deny or disparage other rights retained by the people. In other words, the guarantees of personal safeguards, protections, freedoms and liberties expressly provided for in the Constitution are the foundation and not the roof of the citizens’ rights and privileges. The Constitutional protections are explicit statements of certain, specific rights, but other rights of the people are inalienable and held as a birthright in addition to those penned in the Constitution.Setting government’s boundariesThe final Amendment constituting the Bill of Rights is the Tenth. This Amendment respects states’ rights and has been employed by demagogues, patriots, windbags, zealots, martyrs and heroes to define the borders and boundaries of the federal government. The Amendment expressly limits that the federal government may not swell to an all-consuming monolith. The Amendment holds that powers not expressly conferred upon the federal government are reserved to the states or to the people. There is, accordingly, a built-in circumference larger than which the girth of federal government may not grow.The Bill of Rights is enduring and enlightened. In their very terseness, these Amendments achieve a comprehensiveness that is truly staggering. Although in ten-point type the Bill of Rights would scarcely fill a single page, their far-seeing reach has spawned centuries of debate and have been the progenitor of millions upon millions of words of comment, scholarship, blow-hardery, thought and interpretation. They remain, however, the bedrock of our freedoms and the light of democratic nations around the globe.In the next part of this series, the Amendments which follow the Bill of Rights, commencing with the Eleventh (which was adopted by the states seven years after the Bill of Rights) will be exploded, plumbed, mined and, ultimately, exposed in, hoped-for simplicity and clarity.Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the Bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley. His practice areas include: business & commercial transactions, real estate and development, homeowner’s associations, family law and divorce and civil litigation. He may be heard Wednesday nights at 7 p.m. on KZYR radio (97.7 FM) as host of “Community Focus.” Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at robbins@colorado.net


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