The Right to Compulsory Process

Fundamentals of Procedural Law by Adam J. McKee

The Right to Compulsory Process is a crucial component of the Sixth Amendment in the United States Constitution. It empowers defendants in a criminal trial to get witnesses to appear in court and give testimony on their behalf. This right helps to ensure a fair and balanced trial, enabling the defense to provide counter-evidence and possibly challenge the prosecution’s case effectively.

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Importance of the Right to Compulsory Process

Consider a situation where someone has accused you of committing a crime at a certain location and time. But what if there was someone else who saw you somewhere else at the exact time the crime was committed? The Right to Compulsory Process allows you to compel that person to come to court and tell what they know, thereby providing your alibi.

Supreme Court Cases on Compulsory Process

There have been several landmark cases in the United States Supreme Court interpreting the Right to Compulsory Process. One significant case is Washington v. Texas, 388 U.S. 14 (1967). In this case, Washington was convicted of murder, but his co-defendant, Fuller, who was also present during the incident, was prevented from testifying due to a state law barring co-defendants from testifying for each other. Washington argued that this violated his Right to Compulsory Process. The Supreme Court agreed, holding that the law unconstitutionally infringed on Washington’s right to a fair trial by denying him a chance to call a witness who could provide favorable evidence. The court emphasized that the Right to Compulsory Process is fundamental to a fair trial.

Another significant case is Chambers v. Mississippi, 410 U.S. 284 (1973). In this case, the Supreme Court held that the defendant’s right to a fair trial was violated when the trial court did not allow him to present evidence from witnesses who could potentially prove his innocence.


In conclusion, the Right to Compulsory Process is an essential part of the Sixth Amendment that protects defendants in criminal trials. This right allows defendants to summon witnesses to court to provide evidence that may challenge the prosecution’s case and ensure a fair trial. Several Supreme Court cases have further established and refined this right, confirming its pivotal role in ensuring justice in the legal system.



Modification History

File Created:  08/08/2018

Last Modified:  07/24/2023

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