What Are Some of My Most Important Rights When Accused of a Crime?

criminal-defense-lawyerIf you have been accused of a crime, you may be feeling any number of things. You may be feeling overwhelmed, frightened, and unsure as to how best to defend yourself and assert your rights under the law. For that matter, you may not even understand exactly what your rights are. All of these feelings and concerns are normal and understandable. The law can be complex and confusing, and this can be particularly so when compounded by a stressful situation like being accused of a crime. Rest assured, however, that if you have been accused of a crime, you do have rights. In fact, from the very founding of our country, the rights of those accused of crimes have been very specifically protected.

If you have been accused of a crime, under both the United States Constitution and as a result of important decisions by our courts, you have a number of rights that are protected by law and you should assert them. Most of us have heard of the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, and in truth, that right is a bedrock of our justice system in the United States. Any case against you must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, and you should be fully aware that this is the case. Under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, you also have the right to the following:

  • The Right to Know the Charges and Accusations Against You: If you are arrested, you absolutely have the right to know the charges against you. You cannot be arrested without first being advised as to why the arrest is happening.
  • The Right to Trial By Jury: If you are accused of a crime, you have the right to request a trial by jury. Essentially, this right exists to protect you from any discrimination on the part of authorities by putting the ultimate determination regarding your guilt or innocence in the hands of your fellow citizens. You may waive this right if you wish, but you do have the right to request a jury trial, should you wish to do so.
  • The Right to a Timely Trial: The fundamental idea behind the right to a timely and speedy trial is that someone should not live with the threat of prosecution hanging over their head for an indefinite amount of time. They should also not have to remain incarcerated while awaiting trial for an unreasonable amount of time. The goal is to ensure that those who are accused of crimes, particularly if they end up being found not guilty, do not miss out on the opportunity to live the life they want for any more time than is absolutely necessary.
  • The Right to Have an Attorney Represent You: The Constitution makes clear that anyone accused of a crime has the right to have an attorney represent them so they can defend themselves against those charges. You also have the right to have your attorney present with you at any time you are being interrogated by, or having any other official interaction with, authorities.
  • The Right to Confront the Witnesses against You and Compel Witnesses to Testify on Your Behalf: As an accused, you have the right to know who is accusing you and what you are being accused of. You also have the right to put on a defense. And if you know of witnesses who can corroborate an alibi or provide testimony in your defense, you have the right to compel those witnesses to do so.

In addition to these rights protected by the Sixth Amendment, under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution, as an accused you have:

  • The Right to be Free from Excessive Bail or Cruel and Unusual Punishment: While the right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment is frequently invoked in death penalty cases, it actually applies to all defendants, regardless of the crime they are accused of. You must be treated with respect and basic human dignity. You cannot be kept in unsafe or unsanitary conditions, nor can you be treated inhumanely while incarcerated. This right includes the right to adequate food, shelter, and medical care when needed during your incarceration as well. In addition, the 8th Amendment mandates that courts not set an amount for bail that is disproportionate to the crime of which you are accused, and you have the right to assert this right should you believe that this has happened in your case.

In addition to these explicitly defined constitutional rights, in 1966, the United States Supreme Court expanded upon the rights set forth in the Constitution in the case of Miranda v. Arizona. In Miranda, the United States Supreme Court established that any person taken into custody be provided with a notice of their rights, including:

  • The right to remain silent: This is a right provided to you by the 5th Amendment, and reinforced in Miranda. You cannot be forced to incriminate yourself, and officers must advise you of this right at the time of your arrest.
  • That anything you say can be used against you in a court of law;
  • The right to legal counsel; and
  • That if you cannot afford legal counsel, counsel will be appointed for you.

We’d like to emphasize the first of those—the right to remain silent. We are often asked by clients whether they should speak with law enforcement. Our answer is, “No, you should not.” We are then often asked if it makes the person look guilty if the person refuses to speak to law enforcement. Again, our answer is, “Do not talk to law enforcement.” There is nothing you can say that will help you. If you are going to be charged with a crime, they will charge you no matter what you say. And in the meantime, you may be compromising your own case if you speak about what happened. If the client is still skeptical, we point them to this video on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-7o9xYp7eE.

If you have been accused of a crime, try not to panic or feel overwhelmed, even though it may seem easier said than done. You have rights under the law, and you should assert them confidently. In order to ensure that you assert your rights to the fullest extent, hiring an attorney who understands the law, as well as the best strategies to pursue in your defense, is a wise choice to make. At 303 Legal, we are proud to have had the opportunity to put our knowledge and experience to work in defense of countless clients over the years, and we would be honored to have the opportunity to help you as well. Call us today.