One of the most distinguishing features of our American government is the rights of our citizens. Perhaps more than any other nation, our constitutional system protects us against violations by our government of our basic human rights. Nowhere are these right more important or relevant than in the criminal justice system.
The language of the fourteenth amendment to the Constitution spells it out clearly: “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law…” The 4th amendment, 5th amendment and others use similar language to protect the rights of citizens.
This can seem like highfalutin verbiage, but the language here is critical to your rights. In the criminal justice system, these Constitutional protections have very specific, significant ramifications.
Your protected rights in the criminal justice system
There are three key areas where your rights are protected in the criminal justice system:
- Due process in the investigation: During a criminal investigation, the police cannot simply tap your phones for no reason or walk into your house and start looking through your things. The police cannot pull you over while driving without seeing some evidence that would result in a reasonable suspicion that you are engaging in criminal activity. Generally, these actions require a duly authorized warrant. Absent a warrant, there needs to be probable cause and reasonable suspicion, and even in these situations you still have some rights that need to be protected.
- Your rights during an arrest: During an arrest, you have the right to not be mistreated by the police, to not have unnecessary force used against you. You also have the right to remain silent, a right to an attorney and other important rights that are spelled out in the Miranda rights that police are required to recite to everyone they arrest.
- Due process in court: As an American, you are given the right to a fair and speedy trial, with the assistance of legal counsel. You also have a right to not have to face trial for the same crime more than once (double jeopardy). In addition, there are numerous rights regarding evidence, witness testimony and other aspects of a criminal trial.
You have many rights as an American in the criminal justice system, from the point of the initial investigation, through the arrest, the trial and any appeals you can make. While these rights are of critical importance, they can be complex in how they play out in the system. This is why working with an experienced criminal defense lawyer is critical to protecting your rights and freedoms.