Criminal Law

Criminal Law Trials - Defendant's Rights

State and federal laws provide defendants with numerous rights to ensure fairness in criminal cases. Two of those basic rights include the right against self-incrimination and the right to a speedy trial. The right against self-incrimination basically provides that a defendant isn't required to be a witness against himself. The right to a speedy trial seeks to protect defendants against any prejudice that could result from a delay in taking the case to trial.

Right against Self-Incrimination

The Self-Incrimination Clause provides that no person shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself. This protects defendants from being required to produce testimonial evidence that may be used for the purpose of prosecution. This means that the government can't compel you to make statements against your interest, but can compel you to provide physical evidence, such as blood samples, handwriting samples or videotapes.

Although the privilege is sometimes viewed as a shelter for the guilty, it is also a protection for the innocent. An underlying value for the privilege is to avoid producing a confession through the use of inhumane treatment. Another purpose of the privilege is to make the government "shoulder the load" when attempting to deprive someone of their liberty.

A witness doesn't need to speak any particular words to use the privilege. The witness only needs to express any language that reasonably shows a desire to claim the privilege. On the other hand, the privilege may be waived if the witness states a desire to waive it or by voluntarily answering questions. It is important to know that the privilege only applies in cases that could result in criminal sanctions.

Right to Speedy Trial

The right to speedy trial guarantees that, in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy trial. The purpose of the rule is to safeguard against excessive incarceration prior to trial and to minimize anxiety, concern and the ability to defend while awaiting trial. There are specific time limits for presenting a charge to a grand jury, filing charges against a defendant and for bringing a defendant to trial.

The time limits vary under state laws. Federal prosecutions have their own rules. There are exceptions to the rules, excludable periods and rules regarding the time limits if charges are dismissed. The variations are too numerous for discussion in this article. It is important that you discuss the specific facts of your case with an experienced criminal law attorney to determine whether or not your speedy trial rights have been violated. A few examples, however, will help you understand the basics.

Under federal law, an individual must be formally charged with a crime within 30 days of arrest. If this rule is violated, then the charges must be dismissed. Also, if a defendant enters a plea of not guilty, the defendant must be brought to trial within 70 days of the time that the charges were filed or from the date the defendant appeared in court for the charge, whichever is later. In order for these rules to apply, the defendant must make a formal demand for speedy trial.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Does my case in involve "criminal sanctions?"
  • How long does the state have to bring me to trial after charges are filed?
  • What if I do not have enough time to prepare my defense?
  • What do I need to do to protect and enforce my rights if there's a criminal case against me?

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This article was verified by:
Gregory J. Panzo, Jr. | May 11, 2015
203 N. St. Clair Abrams Avenue
Tavares,FL
32778-3259
(352) 253-0456 View Profile
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