Constitutional Rights

Criminal Law - List of Constitutional Rights

Below you will find a list of constitutional rights that are pertinent in a criminal trial.

Right to be Secure Against Unreasonable Searches and Seizures

The Fourth Amendment guarantees the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, and property against unreasonable searches and seizures.  Normally, a government official must obtain a warrant specifically describing the property to be seized, or the person to be arrested, before any search, seizure, or arrest can be made.

The Right to Effective Assistance of Counsel / The Right to a Competent Attorney

The Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments of our Constitution guarantee that a person brought to trial in any state or federal court must be afforded the right to the effective assistance of counsel before he can be validly convicted and punished by imprisonment.

The Right to a Speedy Trial

The Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to a speedy trial.  This guarantee is designed to minimize the possibility of lengthy incarceration prior to trial, reduce the substantial impairment of freedom imposed on an accused while released on bail, and to shorten the disruption of life caused by arrest and the presence of unresolved criminal charges.

The Right to a Jury Trial

The Sixth Amendment guarantees criminal defendants the right to trial by an impartial jury that is made up of citizens of the state and district where the crime was committed.

The Right to Confront Witnesses (Confrontation Clause)

The Sixth Amendment guarantees criminal defendants the right to be present and face the witnesses who testify against him/her at trial, and the right to conduct cross examinations of those witnesses.  The purpose of the Confrontation Clause is to ensure that evidence presented is reliable by subjecting it to rigorous testing by those who would oppose it.

The Right to a Public Trial

The Sixth Amendment guarantees a criminal defendant the right to a public trial.  The Constitution insists that the indictment, trial, sentence, testimonies, and all other presentations of evidence be available for public viewing.  This ensures that the judge and prosecutor carry out their duties responsibly, encourages witnesses to come forward, and discourages perjury.

The Privilege Against Self Incrimination (Right to Remain Silent)

The Fifth Amendment privilege against self incrimination prohibits the state from compelling an individual to incriminate him/herself.  This privilege guarantees every person the right to remain silent when they are faced with the real possibility that by speaking, they will likely incriminate themselves in a current or future criminal proceeding.

Due Process Rights – Defendant’s Confession must be Voluntary

The Fifth Amendment and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment are the two constitutional bases for not admitting a confession into evidence unless it is voluntary.  If a confession is the product of sustained pressure by the police, because the defendant was coerced, or because the defendant has been subjected to physical or mental abuse, the confession will likely not be voluntary and thus not admitted into the defendant’s trial as evidence.

Miranda Rights

Miranda Rights stem from the Fifth Amendment privilege against self incrimination, but the actual “Miranda” rule comes from a Supreme Court case.  Miranda requires law enforcement officers to give Miranda warnings to individuals before any custodial interrogation.  So, Miranda warnings only have to be given to an individual after they’re in custody, and only if the police officer intends on interrogating them.  There are four warnings required by Miranda: (1) the right to remain silent; (2) anything she/he says can be used against her/him in the court of law; (3) the right to the presence of an attorney; (4) if the individual can’t afford an attorney, one will be appointed for him prior to questioning.

Due Process Rights / Right to Exclude Suggestive Pretrial Identifications

The Due Process Clause of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments forbids any pretrial identifications (where a witness or victim identified the defendant) that are unnecessarily suggestive to the point that there is a likelihood the defendant will be misidentified.

Double Jeopardy

The Double Jeopardy Clause prohibits a defendant from being retried (having another trial) for the same offense for which she/he was found not guilty.