Getting arrested and charged with a crime can be a terrifying experience. Should you ever find yourself in this situation, however, the U.S. Constitution guarantees you certain rights. Here’s a look at some of those constitutional rights and the legal history behind them.
The Charges Against You
Throughout English history, individuals were routinely imprisoned on charges they knew nothing about. When the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, they were determined not to allow this misappropriation of justice happen in their new republic. In the United States, individuals who’ve been accused of crimes have seven specific protections under the Sixth Amendment.
• The right to be informed of the nature of the accusations against them
• The right to a speedy trial
• The right to a public trial
• The right to be judged by an impartial jury of their peers
• The right to confront witnesses to alleged crimes
• The right to solicit witnesses who can speak to their innocence or to the nature of special circumstances that may mitigate culpability
• The right to counsel
The Right to Counsel
In 1789 when the Sixth Amendment was first written, many people accused of crimes ended up defending themselves in the courtroom. As the laws of the United States became more and more complicated, fewer and fewer people were able to defend themselves skillfully.
Until the early 20th century, the Sixth Amendment was not interpreted to mean that there existed an absolute right to counsel. Instead, it was interpreted to mean that individuals had the right to hire a private attorney if such individuals had the desire and the financial resources to do so.
In the 1932 case Powell vs. Alabama, the United States Supreme Court decided that the right to counsel was implicit in the wording of the Sixth Amendment.
The Fifth Amendment gives individuals the right to refuse to testify against themselves. From the 15th through the 17th centuries, Britain’s Star Chamber Courts routinely used torture and other means to compel confessions from individuals who may or may not have committed the crimes they were accused of. The Founding Fathers intended the Fifth Amendment to protect individuals from those types of excesses.
The Supreme Court strengthened the Fifth Amendment’s protections against self-incrimination in a decision handed down in the famous 1966 case Miranda v. Arizona. Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination now apply to suspects who are in police custody as well as to individuals who stand in front of a courtroom.
Other legal protections are contained within the Fifth Amendment as well. The Fifth Amendment stipulates that the government cannot deprive individuals of life, liberty or property without due process of law. It also guarantees that citizens cannot be tried twice for the same crime. This prohibition of double jeopardy has certain seeming exceptions, though: An individual can be tried for the same act separately in a state and in a federal court.
Protecting Your Rights
Criminal lawyers will work hard to uphold their clients’ best interests and to help clients achieve the most advantageous resolution possible given the circumstances surrounding the accusations against them. Hayword lawyers who specialize in criminal defense can help ensure that you’re able to take full advantage of the safeguards the Bill of Rights makes available to you.