In a criminal case, you are pitted against the resources of prosecutors. You must contend with prosecutors, state-employed or paid experts, and law enforcement officers. Inadequate preparation of your defense or unchecked violations of your constitutional rights can further place your defense at a disadvantage. Here are some important rights you have as a criminal defendant.
What’s the Evidence Against—or For—You?
The Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause guarantees you the right to know your accusers. You can learn the identity of the witnesses and what they will likely say in court. To further prevent trial by ambush, most state laws allow your lawyer discovery of much of the prosecutors’ evidence. This includes witness statements, photographs, video tapes and expert witnesses.
Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Brady v United States, you have a right to get from the prosecutors evidence that may negate your guilt. For instance, exculpatory evidence may include video that does not show you at the scene or time of the alleged crime.
Your early encounters with law enforcement implicate your Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights. Under the Fourth Amendment, police must have either have a warrant to search you or your property or have probable cause to search without a warrant. Warrantless searches not supported by any reasonable belief that you have committed a crime can cause that evidence to be excluded at trial.
The admission of unlawfully obtained evidence and statements can sink your defense. Miranda v Arizona requires that the police inform you of your right to remain silent and that you have the right to the assistance of counsel. Admissions of guilt and other statements may have been obtained from you in violation of your Fifth Amendment rights. Such evidence can prove very damaging. If the statements are not admissible, you can keep from the trial all the evidence traced to the inadmissible statements.
The Right to Counsel
A competent criminal defense attorney is a critical protection under the Sixth Amendment. Effective legal representation includes having someone to fully investigate the charges, the accusers and all the facts and circumstances involved in the case. The lawyer’s legal services include analyzing the strength of the evidence and whether your rights were violated in the investigation, arrest or prosecution.
The Fair Trial
With effective assistance of counsel, you have someone to assert your fair trial rights. One such right is the cross-examination of witnesses. Armed with information about the witnesses, your lawyer can elicit whether the accuser gains financially or otherwise by having you in jail or has other bias, or if there are physical or mental impairments that may skew the reliability of the witnesses’ testimony.
Your chances of acquittal may also depend upon the 12 people selected to decide your fate. You are entitled to an impartial jury of your peers, and your lawyer’s role includes advocating for that fair jury.
Your defense to prosecution means having someone to zealously protect your constitutional rights. You also need someone to thoroughly examine and attack the prosecutor’s case against you. These are the goals of your Sixth Amendment right to the effective assistance of counsel.
Addy Reeds is a freelance writer from Eugene, Oregon. She discovered her passion for journalism while attending the University of Oregon. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook: @addyreeds1; https://www.facebook.com/addy.reeds