Everyone’s Entitled to a Defense, Even If They’re Not Innocent

Everyone’s Entitled to a Defense, Even If They’re Not Innocent You can’t talk long about the legal rights of U.S. citizens before the conversation turns to  Constitutional rights. The U.S. Constitution gives certain immutable rights to all Americans.  Technically, it’s the first 10 Amendments to the Constitution that give us our rights. Together, these amendments are aptly called The Bill of Rights. The Constitution’s First Amendment notably gives everyone the right to free speech. There’s even an amendment that prevents soldiers from moving into your home or taking your home from you (or at least not without paying you for it). Let’s look at how your Constitutional rights can protect you if you’ve been charged with a criminal offense.

What are the Constitutional rights of every American?

Every U.S. citizen has the right to remain “innocent until proven guilty.” If you’ve ever sat in a jury box, you understand how important it is to respect and observe a person’s right to innocence as part of your duty as an impartial juror. U.S. citizens get their rights from the set of laws that are collectively known as Constitutional due process laws. Your Constitutional Due Process laws protect you whether you face drug-related or DUI charges, a felony or misdemeanor, traffic violations or vehicular homicide, and any other criminal charges.

These protections are upheld by the Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Constitutional Amendments.

The Fifth Amendment might be best known for the concept of pleading the Fifth, which protects you against self-incrimination. When you hear the police tell someone they have the right to remain silent, they’re advising them of their federally-mandated Fifth Amendment rights. Beyond these “Miranda rights”, the Fifth Amendment offers additional protections to people who are accused of committing crimes. If you’re facing a possible trial and conviction, it’s important to remember that the amendment protects people from being deprived of “life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” This means that everyone is entitled to fair procedures and trials even if they’re facing criminal charges and possible imprisonment (which is the loss of liberty). Fair procedures include notice of an impending trial, the chance to be heard at the trial, and an impartial trial, at the very least. The Fourteenth Amendment also guarantees due process of the law but by the state government rather than the federal government.

The Sixth Amendment also offers you some additional protections if you are accused of a crime. You have the right to be informed of your criminal charges and to have a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury. The Sixth Amendment also states that:

  • The defendant has the right to representation by a defense lawyer.
  • Witnesses must face the defendant.
  • The defendant must be allowed to call their own witnesses, too.

Finally, the Eighth Amendment bars excessive bail and fines as well as cruel unjust punishment. To set your bail or dole out other forms of punishment, a judge must take into account the seriousness of your crime as well as your ability and potential to be a flight risk.

How exactly do the Constitutional laws protect you?

Even if you are not innocent of a criminal offense, a defense attorney can use the letter of the law to protect you in a few different ways. Here are a few potential scenarios.

The prosecution fails to convince the jury. Even if you committed a crime, the burden of proof is on the prosecution. Jurors have to assume that you are innocent no matter what you look like, how you talk, how they feel about you, or what they know about your background. They may even need to suspend their disbelief and keep an open mind – even if they feel that you probably committed the crime. This means it’s the prosecuting attorney’s job to paint a picture for the jury and then use evidence and witnesses to prove the crime they have depicted. The whole jury must agree beyond a shadow of a doubt that a person committed the crime In order for them to charge you guilty. A criminal defense attorney can poke holes in the picture the prosecution is trying to paint.

An experienced defense lawyer can get you a fair sentence. A defense lawyer is always interested in protecting the rights of the defendant at all times. Remember the 8th Amendment and its verbiage on “cruel and unusual punishment”? Your defense lawyer will work with the judge to ensure that your punishment is not excessive but matches the crime for which you are accused. In some cases, your defense attorney may deem that the best option is to try to get you the lightest possible sentence.

You can take a plea bargain. A good defense lawyer will know when it’s time to take a plea bargain instead of heading to trial. In a plea bargain, the prosecution may agree to drop more serious charges or replace more serious charges with less serious charges. Plea bargains also include the defendant admitting to the crime or making some other concession in exchange for a lighter sentence. Reasons to go for a plea bargain include avoiding a lengthy trial as well as avoiding unwanted publicity. There are some disadvantages to plea bargains as well.

You may be able to get your charges dropped. Your defense attorney can file a motion to dismiss to try to get your criminal charges dropped. Reasons the court might drop or dismiss charges include the following:

  • The defendant’s rights have been violated. For example, if law enforcement searched your house without a warrant, your Fourth Amendment rights were violated.
  • Evidence is deemed inadmissible. If the police took your property when they searched your house without a warrant, that property is not admissible as evidence.
  • The evidence was mishandled. Your defense attorney can make a case that police investigators failed to establish a credible chain of custody or otherwise mishandled evidence.
  • There’s a new witness. A credible witness has come forward and refuted the initial witness’ testimony.

You can keep certain evidence out of court. Even if your charges aren’t dropped, your defense attorney can file a motion to suppress evidence, which will keep certain evidence out of court. Your lawyer can argue that the  or that it was obtained unlawfully. If the police conducted a search without probable cause, this constitutes a violation of your Fourth Amendment, and evidence can be suppressed.

Drug court is an option in some cases. The first drug court originated in New York City in 1974. Drug courts provide an alternative to imprisonment for people facing drug-related charges. The idea is to give drug abusers the tools to recover rather than putting them in jail or prison, where their problems will likely only get worse. Drug users are also likely to have chronic diseases like heart problems, diabetes, mental health issues, and hepatitis, which will ultimately make their care more expensive and put a greater financial burden on the system. The Tennessee Department of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Service has four recovery courts that are conveniently located in the vicinity of Franklin.

The Law Offices of Adrian H. Altshuler & Associates has been dedicated to serving the people of central Tennessee for decades. Our criminal defense attorneys in Franklin, Brentwood, and Columbia are here to help you when you need us the most. To schedule a consultation, please call us or fill out our contact form to get help with your legal needs.