3 of the Most Frequently Violated Rights of the Accused
If you have been accused of a crime, you may experience a range of emotions. It makes sense for those accused of crimes to feel angry, sad, scared, hopeless, or helpless. If someone has been accused of domestic violence, they may feel ashamed or embarrassed.
But when you have been accused of a crime, you cannot let your emotions overcome you. One of the best things an accused can do to help their case is to know their legal rights. You want to know what your legal rights are, how they can be enforced, and how not to give them up with your own mistakes!
Why Do the Accused Have Special Legal Rights?
The Constitution affords every person on U.S. soil the right to due process under the law. Procedural due process refers to the process that has to be undertaken before the government can take away a person’s life, liberty, or property.
There are a few key aspects of procedural due process:
- The right to notice
- The right to an opportunity to be heard
- The right to a decision made by a neutral decision-maker
Together, these three rights make up the procedural due process rights that apply to a person who has been accused of a crime.
The Right to Notice
A person has a right to be told that the government intends to deprive them of an interest in their life, liberty, or property. When you are accused of a crime, you will be told of what crime you stand accused. This is your notice under the procedural due process.
The Right to An Opportunity to Be Heard
Your opportunity to be heard will come at your trial. Before then, it is in your best interest to invoke your right to remain silent.
The Right to a Decision by a Neutral Decision-Maker
The people who arrest you (police) and accuse you (prosecutor) of a crime are not the ones who make the ultimate decision about guilt or innocence. The person who makes that decision is a judge, a neutral decision-maker who does not have an interest in the outcome.
What are the Most Frequently Violated Rights of the Accused?
When you are arrested and accused of a crime, you are considered innocent until proven guilty. Understanding the right to the presumption of innocence may help you avoid a wrongful conviction.
The Right to Remain Silent
You’ve seen the show: the cops chase down the guy suspected of rape. They slap handcuffs on his wrists. They get him in the cruiser and they utter those sacred words: “You have the right to remain silent.”
It means that you cannot be forced to give your accusers evidence that will incriminate you in a crime. Often, the television shows leave out the more important end sentence that follows: “Anything you say can and will be used against you.” Why is that important?
You can surrender or give up your right to remain silent if you start talking. Once you waive (give up) the right to remain silent, anything you tell the cops can be used in court against you.
It may be tempting to start talking to the cops. Many people try to explain the misunderstanding.
For example, a person accused of possession of a controlled dangerous substance may want to tell the police that they have a prescription. Instead, the police decide the story sounds like the beginning of a pay-for-prescription drug trafficking ring.
The Right to Be Represented by an Attorney
You have the right to a lawyer from the moment of arrest and through trial or a plea agreement. You have to ask for an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, you have the right to an attorney for free.
Most courts will ask questions at preliminary hearings to determine whether an attorney will be appointed. Many judges do these hearings on Monday mornings when they handle the weekend’s DUI arrests.
The Right to Compel a Witness to Testify
During a trial, a person accused of a crime has the right to bring favorable witnesses before the court to testify on their behalf. This right can be lost if you simply don’t use it.
You have this right even if it inconveniences witnesses. Ask for witnesses and the court will issue subpoenas to them. They will be required to attend trial and give testimony.