In the United State we base our criminal prosecution system on the assumption that the accused is innocent until proven guilty and provide a number of safeguards in the hopes that the defendant’s rights are protected throughout the process. While these rights should not be interfered with, errors occur and it’s a common belief that the best way to ensure your rights are protected is to know them before you become involved with the criminal justice system, and to advocate for yourself if you are involved in a police investigation or the criminal court system.
We’ve organized this information according to the general progression of a criminal case and while we hope the information is helpful, if you become involved in a criminal investigation or case we encourage you to get in touch with a local, experienced criminal defense attorney.
Your Rights With Police
The criminal investigation and arrest is the first part of the criminal case process. At this point you do not have an attorney representing you or have full knowledge of the charges against you. As a result some of the most important rights in this process are related to your interactions with the police.
Miranda Rights must be explained to you once you are under arrest or involved in a custodial interrogation. Specifically Miranda provides the following rights:
- The Right to Remain Silent
- The Right to An Attorney
You must expressly state your wish to remain silent and speak with an attorney. If you tell the police you want an attorney and do not want to speak with them, the interrogation must stop.
Right to Privacy
The Fourth Amendment protects your right to Privacy. This right to privacy means that you should not be subject to government intrusion in many aspects of your life. Under the fourth amendment you are not allowed to be subject to unreasonable Search and Seizure.
Your rights relating to Search and Seizure protect you from search of any area where you have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Essentially that means a police officer may not search your person, your home, your car, office or any other area where you would expect privacy unless they have one of the following:
- A valid search warrant;
- A valid arrest warrant;
- Probable cause that you committed a crime
Warrants are formal court authorization allowing the police to arrest an individual or search a location(s) for specific items or evidence of a crime. If you are subject to a search warrant you are entitled to a copy of the warrant to verify the extent of the search authorized by the court.
Your Rights in Court
Right to Counsel
In the United States it’s believed that an effective criminal justice system requires both parties to be effectively represented. As a result, if you cannot or chose not to hire your own attorney you have the right to be represented by an attorney appointed by the court.
Right against Self-incrimination
The burden to prove a crime falls on the prosecution and as a result the defendant is not obligated to provide any information to assist the prosecution in their pursuit of the case. Under the Fifth Amendment criminal defendants have a Right against Self-incrimination meaning you can choose not to testify or limit the questions you answer by invoking this right.
Right to a Speedy Trial
Under the Sixth Amendment you have the right to face a Jury of your Peers within a reasonable period of time if you have been convicted of a crime. The time periods vary based on the state where the alleged crime occurred and the work load of the courts but you can argue that your rights have been violated if there is no justification for the delay.
Right against Double Jeopardy
The Right against Double Jeopardy prohibits the prosecution from conducting a second trial on the same or similar crime after an acquittal or conviction and after certain mistrials.
Your Rights if Convicted
Right against Cruel and Unusual Punishment
The Eighth Amendment provides your right to be free of Cruel and Unusual Punishment. The general notion is that the punishment should not be unusually severe, arbitrary and rejected by contemporary society and is not more effective than a less severe form of punishment.
Right to Counsel on First Appeal
In addition to your right to counsel during trial, you are also entitled to legal representation on your First Appeal. This allows defendants of any economic background to ensure the law was followed during trial and the proper outcome was reached.
Your Rights if Acquitted
Right to Have the Record Sealed
In some situations, after an acquittal you may petition to have your record sealed. If the record is sealed, the case will be treated like it never occurred and the related documents may actually be destroyed.