The original Bill of Rights applied only to the federal government and did nothing to protect citizens’ rights from infringement by the states.
After the Civil War, in 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted, which forbade states from denying anyone life, liberty, or property without due process of law. Based on the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause, the United States Supreme Court began to selectively incorporate the most important rights contained in the Bill of Rights against the states.
That is precisely what the Court did a hundred years later in the famous case of Duncan v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 145 (1968).
Gary Duncan was charged with misdemeanor battery, which carried a sentence of up to two years in prison. Duncan asked for a jury trial, but the Louisiana state court refused the request. At that time, Louisiana limited the use of jury trials to serious crimes, meaning those that carried a penalty of execution or imprisonment at hard labor. If Duncan were tried in federal court, he would have had a Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial.
Duncan was convicted and subsequently appealed his case to the Supreme Court. The Court reversed Duncan’s conviction, concluding that the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial was fundamental.
As a result, the Fourteenth Amendment guaranteed the right to a jury trial even in criminal prosecutions brought in state courts. In so doing, the Court incorporated the Sixth Amendment right against the states.
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