When the police arrest you or someone you know, the first reaction for many people is confusion. This is because they do not know their rights when it comes to responding to criminal charges. As a result, many people end up making strategic mistakes that cost them during trial.
It pays to know your rights according to the law, as you never know when you may have a run-in with the police. The rights of a criminal defendant are not hard to understand and could save you or someone you know.
Criminal Defendants Rights
1. The Miranda rights
If you are arrested, a law enforcement officer must read you your Miranda Rights. This right, is provided under the Fifth Amendment in the United States constitution.
Law officers must read these rights to defendants or provide them in written form. They must also ensure all arrested persons understand their rights before taking them into custody.
Miranda rights inform defendants of their right to legal counsel. They also remind defendants of their right not to answer self-incriminating questions. However, if you are a civil defendant, you can be forced to testify in a civil case regardless.
2. Right to adequate representation
It is vital for anyone answering to criminal charges to have a lawyer.
According to the 6th amendment, a criminal defendant has a right to a lawyer. Where a defendant cannot afford one, the court should appoint counsel for them at the government’s expense.
A lawyer, whether appointed by the court or hired by an individual facing criminal charges, must defend him or her sufficiently. Lawyers advise defendants on how to respond to criminal charges and protect their rights as well as set out plea agreements where necessary.
However, the right to adequate representation does not apply in cases of extradition, breaking of tax laws, and breaching of voting and immigration regulations.
3. Presumption of innocence and equal protection of rights
Under the law, a defendant is presumed innocent unless proven guilty. Every person accused of a crime deserves their day in court. Only after the evidence is scrutinized in a trial can a person be referred to as guilty or innocent.
Also, as per the 14th amendment, all citizens have equal protection under the law. Hence, there must be no preferential treatment given to defendants because of their race, age, or status.
4. The right to confront an accuser
The sixth amendment gives a criminal defendant the right to cross-examine his or her accuser in court. It states a public trial is a must for every criminal case.
In the same vein, a prosecutor cannot prove your guilt using any oral or written statements from witnesses that will not testify in court. That’s because it will go against your right to cross-examine them.
However, there are exemptions such as when the witness’s statement is non -testimonial, which often occurs under exceptional circumstances such as when you have a 9-1-1 call used to report a crime. There are also cases where evidence is produced in-camera, for example, when a minor testifies in a case.
5. A trial by jury
The sixth amendment also protects a criminal defendant’s rights to stand trial in front of a jury of his/her peers. The only exemption to this rule is where the defendant is charged with petty crimes. These are crimes that carry a jail term of 6 months or less.
Jurors are selected from the community and screened thoroughly to eliminate any instances of conflict of interest or bias. The jurors are expected to be impartial, and if the defendant thinks one is biased, he or she has a right to have the juror removed from the panel.
6. Following due process
Every aspect of the law has guidelines set out by the constitution that should be followed by everyone involved. This is to protect the defendant from being treated unlawfully and also to make sure the prosecutors, law officers, and even judges follow the right procedure in every case.
7. Freedom from double jeopardy
According to the rule of double jeopardy, a defendant cannot be charged twice for the same crime. Unfortunately, it does not prevent the state from bringing charges against a defendant under federal law if previously he or she was prosecuted under state law.
These are some basic rights of a criminal defendant you should be familiar with. It’s essential to know your rights and to look for expert guidance. Contact a reputable lawyer whenever you are faced with criminal charges for proper guidance and representation.