As an American citizen, you have rights and protections under the Constitution regarding the criminal law process. Most of us take them for granted, until the day that we need to know them.
Whether or not you have been arrested or charged with a crime, it is important to know and understand your rights. Awareness of your rights will enable you to ensure that those rights are protected as you navigate the legal system.
The Miranda Rights
The Miranda rights comprise all of your basic rights and will follow you throughout the entire criminal process, from arrest, to questioning, to trial. You may have heard these rights stated on crime television shows: “You have the right to remain silent….”
If you are arrested by the authorities, they are required to inform you of your Miranda rights before questioning you about a crime. Failure to do so could lead to the dismissal of evidence obtained during the questioning.
The Miranda rights is a series of statement:
You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney, and to have an attorney present during any questioning. If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be provided for you at government expense.
Telling you these rights is not enough, however. The authorities must also ask you if you understand these rights and confirm that you are voluntarily talking to them.
Rights in Court:
As stated in your Miranda rights, you have the right to an attorney who will represent you in court. If you are arrested, you should consult with a criminal defense lawyer and receive advice about your case, before anything else.
Along with the Miranda rights, you have rights under the 5th and 6th Amendment to the Constitution.
The Sixth Amendment grants you the right to a “speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury.” There is no clear definition of “speedy,” as each case’s time frame is different. Your criminal defense attorney will help you recognize if your right to a speedy trial has been violated. In addition, not all trials will have a jury. Typically, crimes whose punishment is less than six months are considered “petty offenses” that do not require a jury. Whether or not your case is decided by a jury will depend on the circumstances of your case and the advice of your attorney.
According to the Fifth Amendment, you have the right not to testify at trial. Sometimes, this is referred to as “pleading the fifth” or “self-incrimination rights.” You cannot be forced to testify at your trial, and the jury is not supposed to use your agreement or refusal to testify as a sign of innocence or guilt. If you choose to testify in a trial as the defendant, you would waive these rights. You would not be allowed to refuse to answer any questions, even during cross-examination by the prosecuting attorney.
These rights are not an exhaustive list, but they should be a useful starting point for you when facing criminal charges. Your criminal defense attorney should fully explain to you your rights under the law as well as how they relate to your specific case. For more information about us and the kinds of criminal cases we handle, please visit our website.