Criminal Offenses: Understand Your Rights
If you’ve been charged with a criminal offense, knowledge really is power. A basic understanding of the rights afforded every criminal defendant by the U.S. Constitution will allow you to avoid making mistakes that could put your freedom at risk. Unfortunately, far too many people are unaware that the law offers suspects in criminalcases significant protections. These rights limit the manner in which the government can investigate, prosecute and punish criminal behavior, and they require that prosecutors reach an extremely high burden of proof. Knowing and understanding these protections could mean the difference between your freedom and a criminal conviction.
Rights Afforded Every Criminal Defendant:
- The Right to Remain Silent: Every criminal defendant has a right not to incriminate themselves. This right is enshrined in the 5th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and is in force during an arrest and at trial. Of course, you also have the right to confront your accusers and to testify on your own behalf. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you determine the best course of action in your case. If you have not yet obtained legal counsel, it is best to remain silent.
- The Right to Representation: Every criminal defendant charged with a misdemeanor or a felony has the right to adequate legal counsel. This right is contained in the 6th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. In cases where a defendant is indigent, the court is required to appoint counsel on his behalf. A defendant has a right to decline counsel, and represent themselves. However, given the complexity of our legal system, this is really not advisable.
- The Right to Bail: All criminal defendants have a right to reasonable bail, as per the 8th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. While the 8th Amendment does not confer an absolute right to bail, it does hold that if bail is granted, the court cannot impose an excessive amount. As such, any bail imposed should take into account the severity of the crime, as well as the defendant’s potential to flee the jurisdiction where the crime occurred.
- The Right to a Speedy and Public Trial: The 6th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution holds that all criminal defendants should be afforded a speedy and public trial. The public and transparent nature of a trial helps to ensure that an individual’s rights will not be violated. The right to a speedy trial protects the accused from spending an excessive amount of time in jail without the benefit of a conviction.
- Right to a Trial by Jury: The 6th Amendment also provides for trial by an impartial jury. The jury in any criminal trial consists of citizens who are randomly called by the court and jointly chosen by prosecutors and the defendant’s attorney.
- The Right to Confront Witnesses: This right, also contained in the 6th Amendment, grants the accused the right to counter any testimony presented against him.
- The Right against Double Jeopardy: The 5th Amendment also protects defendants from being tried again on the same charges if they have already been acquitted at trial.
What are Your Miranda Rights?
In 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Miranda vs. Arizona that every person taken into police custody must be made aware of their 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination and their 6th Amendment right to counsel. The Miranda Warning is the statement the police must read to every arrestee before they may be questioned:
- You have the right to remain silent.
- Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.
- You have the right to an attorney.
- If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.
If the police question an individual in their custody without reading the Miranda Warning, any statement given by the suspect will be barred from being used as evidence in a criminal case. It’s also very likely that any evidence discovered because of the suspect’s statement will also be thrown out of court.