Your Legal Rights

If you're facing criminal charges, it's important to understand your legal rights. Most people are familiar with the phrase "innocent until proven guilty," but it's easy to forget that that concept applies to everyone facing criminal charges in the United States.  

Being arrested and charged with a crime can be intimidating, which is why it's important to remember that every single person in the country has certain rights, regardless of what charges they're facing. Here's a brief overview of your legal rights in a criminal case.

Your Legal Rights with Law Enforcement Officials

When interacting with the police, you have certain rights. These include:

  • Miranda rights. The Miranda decision in the Supreme Court instituted a law that requires police officers to advise people of certain Constitutional rights before beginning a custodial interrogation. In other words, before police officers can interrogate you about a crime, they must inform you that you have the right to remain silent, the right to a lawyer, etc. and make sure you understand those rights.
  • Search and seizure rights. The Constitution's Fourth Amendment protects Americans from certain kinds of search and seizure. But other kinds of searches are perfectly legal. The laws regarding the legality of searches are complex and may vary on a case-by-case basis. If you have questions about your individual circumstances, you can speak with a criminal defense lawyer in your area.          
  • Warrant rights. These are closely tied with search rights in many cases. A warrant is a legal document that gives police the right to take action (like conducting a search or making an arrest) that they wouldn't otherwise be able to.

Your Legal Rights in Court

If you've been arrested and charged with a crime, you may end up in criminal court. Specific laws outline what rights defendants enjoy in the courtroom setting. An important part of the job criminal defense lawyers do is to make sure those rights are respected.

As your lawyer can explain to you, your legal rights in court include:            

  • The right to legal counsel. In other words, although you are not obligated to have legal representation, you have the right to work with a lawyer. Those who cannot afford to hire a criminal defense lawyer are appointed a state-employed defender. During a criminal case, the defense lawyer is responsible for keeping the defendant informed about the case and for protecting the defendant's constitutional rights.
  • The right to remain silent. This right (outlined in the Fifth Amendment) allows defendants to remain silent rather than answering questions that might incriminate them. In a trial setting, this right means that a defendant can choose not to testify. Witnesses can also "plead the Fifth" and refuse to answer certain questions in court.                   
  • The right to a quick, public trial. In the Sixth Amendment, Americans are granted the right to have their cases heard in good time (the word used is "speedy") and in public by a jury of their peers. Further, at that trial defendants (and their lawyers) have the right to confront witnesses who testify against them.                    
  • The right against double jeopardy. The Fifth Amendment states that Americans cannot be tried twice for the same single offense. The concept of double jeopardy is more complex than it first appears: mistrials and appeals may at first seem like instances of double jeopardy but are actually considered continuing jeopardy. Your lawyer can explain this right to you in more detail.     

Understanding courtroom rights is essential to presenting a strong criminal defense in a courtroom setting. If you're interested in learning more about your rights in court, don't hesitate to speak with a defense lawyer.

Your Legal Rights after Conviction

Even if you are convicted of a criminal offense, you still enjoy certain rights, thanks to the U.S. Constitution and state laws. Post-conviction rights include:

  • Right against cruel and unusual punishment. The definition of what constitutes "cruel and unusual" varies by state, but most experts agree that punishment must not violate a person's basic human dignity and that the punishment must fit the crime in both severity and appropriateness.                   
  • Right to legal counsel during a first appeal. If you wish to appeal a conviction and have legal grounds to do so, the Supreme Court has ruled that you have the right to a lawyer on your first appeal. This means that, if you cannot afford to hire a criminal defense lawyer, the state can appoint you one.             

If you're interested in learning more about your legal rights during a criminal case, you can speak with a criminal defense lawyer practicing in your area.

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