Important Protections for Criminal Defendants
The Bill of Rights in our Constitution might seem kind of abstract to you. You know it exists, sure. But how does it really impact day-to-day life? The answer is: a lot!
If you’re a Law & Order fan, a lot of what you see in the course of any given episode actually boils down to the important protections contained in the Bill of Rights. And if you’re involved in a criminal case, your rights under this document can have a direct impact on your prosecution.
Read on to learn what you need to know about the Bill of Rights.
What Is the Bill of Rights?
The Bill of Rights is comprised of the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Easy enough, right? Most of the amendments in the Bill of Rights seek to limit the power of the government. Big-ticket rights include the right to free speech, the right to freedom of religion, and the right to bear arms.
Many of the amendments in the Bill of Rights, though, are critically important to criminal defendants:
- Fourth Amendment: guards against “unreasonable searches and seizures,” which includes requiring a warrant and probable cause.
- Fifth Amendment: protects against double jeopardy and self-incrimination, as well as providing defendants the right to due process. “You have the right to remain silent” anyone?!?
- Sixth Amendment: provides the right to a speedy trial and guarantees defendants the right to an attorney in many cases.
- Eighth Amendment: protects against “cruel and unusual punishments,” as well as excessive fines, fees, and bail.
What Do I Need to Know about the Bill of Rights?
To start, the Bill of Rights is the foundation of the freedoms that you commonly associate with living in this country. It’s easy to take our Bill of Rights for granted, but we can’t gloss over how important these rights are.
More immediately, though, it’s important to remember a number of rights you have under the Bill of Rights that may come in handy should you be unlucky enough to have an encounter with law enforcement:
- Stay silent when being questioned by police. I really can’t emphasize this one enough. SHUT THE F UP!
- You have a right to a lawyer, so ask for one. IN NO UNCERTAIN TERMS SAY, “I WANT A LAWYER, NOW.” Don’t “think” you want a lawyer, or ask, “should I talk to my lawyer?” Be explicit and all questioning has to stop. You want a lawyer, and they have to provide you with one if you’re under arrest.
- Do not allow a search without a warrant. Traffic stop on the side of the road? No, they cannot search your car unless you let them or they have to tow it for safety. Ask them to park your car safely, and you can get a spouse, friend, or someone else to come get it later (literally, ANYONE else but the cops).
- Ask if you are free to go. Ask REPEATEDLY if you can leave. Remember how many times they tell you you can’t leave, since that is critical evidence.
- Identify yourself correctly. Pretending to be someone else may land you with felony identity theft, attempt to influence public officials, or at minimum false reporting charges that can haunt you for the rest of your life.
Finally, the protections given to you in the Bill of Rights means that a criminal case against you may potentially be dismissed (in part or in whole) if your rights are violated. Judges in Colorado and around the country are serious about protecting your rights. If they find violations of these rights, you may not be held responsible for the underlying criminal charge. I’ve won motions hearings on 4th, 5th, and 6th amendment grounds, as well as arguments that the police coerced confessions.
A judge’s analysis of these rights can also provide greater protections, beyond a single defendant in a single case. The US Supreme Court recently indicated that it would be willing to make it more difficult for states to take property from someone that is even loosely tied to criminal conduct, based on a policy called “civil asset forfeiture.” But that’s a discussion for another day … Hint: check back here for future blog posts on the subject!
How I Use the Bill of Rights to Protect You
In cases involving violations of one or more of your rights under the Bill of Rights, my goal is often to get the case dismissed against you or to achieve an acquittal after a trial. At a minimum, I hope to achieve suppression of harmful evidence against you when the case goes to trial. In these types of “constitutional issue” cases, I may file pre-trial motions in which I argue that there was a violation of your rights.
For example, law enforcement may have conducted a warrantless search of your cell phone, bag, or car. Or maybe the officers didn’t have sufficient reason to stop your car to begin with. If they later found incriminating evidence against you, this evidence may be suppressed along with any other evidence that was connected to the constitutional violations.
In some cases, we can get the entire case dismissed on these grounds, even if you are straight up guilty of the charge. For the love of God, don’t tell anyone you’re guilty though–especially in jail on a recorded jail call–remember the earlier mantra: shut the f up!
Let Justie Get Justice for You!
Cases that involve potential Bill of Rights violations require a different approach from a lawyer. It’s important that you entrust your case to an attorney who has successfully argued constitutional violations that resulted in dismissals, suppression of evidence, or even sanctions against the other side.
I’ve successfully handled, many cases involving each of the amendments listed above, and then some. If you would like a review of your case, contact me today.
You can schedule a free initial consultation with me online here or by contacting me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And if you’re interested in learning more about the Bill of Rights, including cases that interpret them (AND hearing from people who lived those cases), I highly recommend NPR’s More Perfect.
IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: This blog post does not create an attorney-client relationship. It’s a blog post and not legal advice. Each case is different, and this post is meant for generalized knowledge, only. If you haven’t signed an engagement letter (or even received an engagement letter) AND issued some form of payment (peanuts do not count), then no attorney-client relationship exists. Nevertheless, we will do our best to ensure your confidentiality should you choose to contact us privately, but do not post about your case in the comments here (because reaching out for help with your case should be confidential, damn it).
If you have done both of the things mentioned earlier–signed a letter and paid us–then, and only then, you might be a client. But merely chatting with us online does not a client make. Suffice it to say, if you aren’t absolutely certain about whether or not an attorney-client relationship exists between yourself and NLO, you should probably ask for some clarity. Until then, we’ll keep your secrets but we don’t formally represent you… YET.