Getting charged with a crime is disturbing and unsettling. It creates heartache and anxiety for you and those who love you, and especially if this is your first encounter with the legal system, the charge and the prospect of a criminal defense trial can feel traumatizing. We want to give you an overview of your rights throughout the defense process and some guidance on how to proceed.
Although no legal system is perfect, the protection of the innocent is a fundamental value of the U.S. government and court system. Four out of the first ten amendments (4th, 5th, 6th, and 8th) deal with the rights of criminal defendants. The principle of “innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt” is at the heart of the U.S. judicial system, even though that principle is upheld by imperfect people. That being said, here are the Constitutional rights of a defendant.
The 4th Amendment protects you and your property from being searched without a warrant.
The 5th Amendment gives you:
- The well-known “right to remain silent.” This basically means that you cannot be forced or coerced to speak or to testify against yourself. Since anything you say could be used against you, you can choose not to speak. The amendment also says that your silence or refusal to speak cannot be used against you.
- Protection from being tried more than once in the same court system for the same crime. In other words, you could be tried by both federal and state courts or by both civil and criminal courts, but once the case is closed in any one court system, it cannot be reopened against you.
The 6th Amendment provides defendants with several rights:
- The right to confront witnesses in person. As a defendant, you can require those who would testify against you to come to court and be questioned by the defense attorney and the jury.
- The right to a public trial. Having a public trial allows for your friends and family to be present if they desire creates accountability for the judiciary. It helps protect against secretive, underhanded, or biased court dealings.
- The right to trial by jury. This right guarantees a jury trial for all cases that could involve a sentence of 6 months or longer. Your attorney gets a say in the selection of the jurors and can eliminate potential jurors that might be biased against you.
- The right to a speedy trial. The Constitution does not provide a specific timeframe, however. Therefore, judges have to decide appropriate time limitations on a case-by-case basis.
- The right to adequate representation. You have the right to hire an attorney to defend you, and if you are financially unable to hire your own attorney, the court will provide an attorney to represent you.
The 8th Amendment requires reasonable bail, equivalent to the alleged crime.
If you are accused of a crime, getting legal help immediately is the best way to protect yourself. We recommend contacting an attorney right away. As always, if you have any questions or concerns, we would be happy to hear from you and have a conversation.