3 Constitutional Amendments Every Defendant Should Know
Tomorrow is Constitution Day, which commemorates the signing of the U.S. Constitution on September 17, 1787. What does the Constitution have to do with criminal law?
Not everyone is familiar with the specific rights guaranteed by the Constitution's Bill of Rights. Fortunately, if you are arrested or accused of a crime, you're entitled to these rights, whether you know them or not. That being said, knowing your rights will help you determine when they are being violated.
Which constitutional amendments should you know if you're being accused of a crime? You're probably familiar with your Fifth Amendment right to remain silent, but here are three more:
- The Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment deals with the government's ability to search or seize an individual or his property. Generally, a government agent such as a police officer may not unreasonably search or seize an individual or his property unless the officer has a valid search warrant, a valid arrest warrant, or probable cause to believe that an individual has committed a crime. If a search or seizure violates the Fourth Amendment, any evidence derived from that search may not be admissible in court. However, there are several situations in which a search may be found "reasonable" and not subject to the Fourth Amendment's requirements.
- The Sixth Amendment. Among the guarantees made by the Sixth Amendment is the guarantee of the assistance of counsel. This is why every state and the federal justice system provide appointed counsel, at the government's expense, for defendants who may not be able to afford to hire their own defense lawyers. The Sixth Amendment also guarantees a defendant's right to confront and cross-examine the witnesses against him.
- The Eighth Amendment. The Eighth Amendment prohibits the government from exacting cruel and unusual punishments. This means that although persons convicted of crimes may forfeit certain rights for the duration of their sentence, they must still be provided a basic level of fundamental rights, even while in prison. The Eighth Amendment may also outlaw certain forms of punishment. In 2010, for example, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that sentencing juveniles to life in prison without the possibility of parole for non-homicide crimes violated the Eighth Amendment.
If you are facing criminal charges, an experienced criminal defense attorney can represent you in court and ensure that your constitutional rights are being respected.