“Providing adequate representation, even for defendants who appear guilty, is the best way to protect those who are not.”
― Deborah L Rhode
The Framers of the U.S. Constitution were extremely concerned about the rights of the individual. They were born into a world of tyranny and summary executions. All power rested with King George. None rested with the people.
The Framers fought, argued, and debated between themselves regarding how to protect people from experiencing continued abuses by a government. With God’s divine guidance, The Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution.
The Bill of Rights contains several amendments that deal specifically with the treatment of people accused of crimes. To understand the importance of the rights that the Constitution guarantees, imagine yourself accused of a crime that you didn’t commit.
If arrested, a person usually steps into the great unknown with plenty of fear and little knowledge. The below provides a brief overview of the Constitutional rights that protect all of us.
The first 10 amendments to the Constitution are called the Bill of Rights. They are often referred to as the fundamental freedoms. Within the Bill of Rights contain the six pillars that protect us in criminal matters:
1. Due Process – The right to due process, which is guaranteed by the 5th Amendment, includes the right to be heard. In other words, the accused has a right to a trial, a right to offer evidence, a right to cross-examine witnesses against him, a right to testify if he chooses, a right not to be forced to testify, and a right to make people come to court by issuing subpoenas.
2. Double Jeopardy – The 5th Amendment also guarantees that no one will be subject to double jeopardy: “nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” In general, this means that when a person is charged with a crime and pleads “not guilty,” goes on trial, and is acquitted of the crime, he cannot be prosecuted a second time.
3. Self Incrimination – The 5th Amendment further protects a person from being forced to give testimony against himself. This protection is commonly known as “taking the Fifth” when a witness refuses to answer a question that could incriminate him or when a defendant chooses to not testify at trial. But, this protection expands beyond the courtroom. A suspect never has to talk about a crime if that testimony, statement, or confession will expose the suspect to criminal prosecution.
4. Search and Seizure – The 4th Amendment protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures, illegal detentions, and illegal arrests. Common situations that trigger these protections are when a law enforcement officer stops someone suspected of a crime, searches someone’s home, person, or property.
5. Speedy Trial – The 6th Amendment includes the rights to a speedy and public trial, trial by jury, and the effective assistance of counsel (the criminal defense attorney). Without the right to demand a speedy trial, people would languish in jail awaiting trial longer than they do now. The right to a public trial prevents secretive government trials that have historically been rife with abuses and other problems.
6. Excessive Bail – The 8th Amendment addresses excessive bail. But, what is excessive? Would $175,000 bail be excessive in a misdemeanor case of marijuana possession? Absolutely. But, what about in a murder case? It is important to note that the 8th Amendment does not grant a right to bail. The 8th Amendment also prohibits inflicting cruel and unusual punishment. As a result of these protections, a person cannot be sentenced too harshly. Cruel and unusual punishment has been the central issue in most death penalty cases over the last few decades.
I understand that this is a very broad summary. However, if we are ever arrested for a crime, having knowledge about our protections can alleviate much of the stress and fear associated with facing the criminal justice system.