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Five Constitutional Rights in Criminal Cases

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for AdobeStock_80814322.jpegThe Founding Fathers drafted the Constitution, but this document did not go into effect until the states ratified it. Ratification was far from certain. Many opponents worried that the Constitution, as originally written, contained no guarantees regarding individual rights, especially in criminal cases.

To help ensure ratification, James Madison proposed a set of amendments, which became known as the Bill of Rights. These provisions contain most of the important individual rights guarantees in the Constitution. These amendments have allowed many Weatherford criminal defense attorneys to successfully beat criminal charges in court, even if the defendant appears guilty on the surface.

Remain Silent

Most people know that the Fifth Amendment gives them the right to remain silent. But many people do not realize how broad this right is, and they are not aware of the tricks that police officers use to get people to waive this right.

People must produce certain documents, such as a drivers' license and proof of insurance, if police officers request them. Additionally, people must comply with basic "step out of the car" commands. Other than that, the Fifth Amendment gives people the right to remain absolutely silent. They need not do things like stand in lineups or perform DWI field sobriety tests. Additionally, in most cases, the refusal to do these things cannot be used against them later.

Police officers often promise leniency if suspects do not "lawyer up." That promise may seem enticing, but it is almost impossible to talk one's way out of an arrest. It is always best to remain silent, regardless of what police officers promise.

Reasonable Bail

Prompt pretrial release is an important component of an effective defense. Defendants who remain behind bars often accept unfavorable plea agreements just to "get it over with." In other words, the presumption of innocence, which is explained below, essentially becomes a presumption of guilt.

Typically, pretrial release is rather straightforward. In many cases, non-bail pretrial release may be available. In other situations, such as serious felonies or immigration holds, pretrial release is difficult, but not impossible, to obtain.

Competent Attorney

The Sixth Amendment does more than guarantee the right to counsel. It guarantees the right to an effective lawyer. Without a strong advocate who is both a good litigator and a good negotiator, it is almost impossible to successfully resolve a criminal case.

Some defendants have the choice to go with a public defender or a private attorney. Most public defenders are extremely capable lawyers. But defendants do not get to choose their own lawyers. That's a significant handicap.

Presumption of Innocence

In practical terms, the presumption of innocence means that, when the trial begins, the defendant stands wrongfully accused. Prosecutors must start from there and not only convince jurors that the charges are legitimate. They must also convince jurors that the defendant is guilty.

That proof must be beyond a reasonable doubt. This standard is the highest evidentiary standard in Texas law. That goes for every element of the offense.

Public Trial

One of the most commonly overlooked criminal rights is also one of the most important ones, because it is basically a multiplier.

Public trials help keep prosecutors and judges honest. There is more pressure to do the right thing if people are watching. Public trials make all the other rights even more effective.

Defendants have a number of rights in criminal cases. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney in Weatherford, contact Herreth Law. We routinely handle matters in Parker County and nearby jurisdictions.

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