The U.S. Constitution gives criminal suspects and defendants a number of important rights. These are designed to protect the innocent from being convicted. The Constitution provides minimum protections that each state must allow, but states can give their citizens additional rights.
You Can't Be Forced to Witness Against Yourself
When charged with a crime, you can't be forced to be a witness against yourself. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that this right applies to questioning while in custody. Custody is a situation in which a reasonable person would not feel free to leave. You don't have to be arrested to be in custody.
You can give up this right by choice. If you keep this right and say something during questioning that might work against you, that statement cannot be used against you in a criminal trial.
You Have a Right to Counsel
A criminal defendant has the right to an attorney at any critical stage of the criminal process - interrogation, trial, sentencing and initial appearance. As soon as you are arrested and are "read your rights," you can ask for the help of an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, the court must provide one.
You Have a Right to a Speedy Trial
Under the Constitution, someone accused of a crime has the right to a speedy trial. The key word here is accused. A person is accused only after a grand jury finds that there is enough evidence for an indictment, the prosecution files a document accusing the person of committing a crime, or the person is arrested.
If the prosecution violates this right, the court must dismiss the charges. You may give up this right, and many defendants do in favor of a plea bargain.
You Have a Right to Trial by Jury
Under the U.S. Constitution, the right to a jury trial applies only if you are accused of a crime punishable by more than six months in jail. Generally, a defendant may give up the right to a jury trial so long as the defendant understands the right and the consequences of this action.
Some laws require that the prosecution and the judge also agree with the defendant to give up the right to trial by jury. In this case, either the judge or the prosecution can stop the defendant from giving up the right.
A Criminal Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding the rights of suspects and defendants is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a criminal lawyer.