Most people in the United States have at least a vague understanding of their Constitutional rights. We all studied them in school at some point right? In addition, we all watch police dramas on televisions where they talk about a defendant’s Constitutional rights as well. Knowing you have rights, however, and understanding what those rights and what they mean to you as an accused, are two very different things. Your Constitutional rights are extremely important as a suspect or an accused; yet, most people are unaware of what those rights really are and how to exercise them. Fortunately, defense attorneys do know what your Constitutional rights are and how to protect them, which is one of the many reasons why the first thing you should do as a suspect or a defendant is retain the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney. While you can rest assured that defense attorney will protect your Constitutional rights, it is also to your benefit to gain a better understanding of those rights.
Knowledge Is Power — Your Constitutional Rights
The old adage is right — knowledge is power. You cannot assert your rights unless you know what they are. Your criminal defense attorney will certainly protect your rights; however, your attorney may not always be with you, making it imperative that you have at least a basic understanding of your most important Constitutional rights.
Right against Unreasonable Searches and Seizures
Both the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article I-7 of the Nebraska Constitution protect you against unreasonable searches and seizures. Although the warrant requirement that stems from this right has been watered down considerably over the years, your home remains heavily protected by both Constitutions. Never consent to a search of anything without first consulting your attorney.
Right against Self-Incrimination
Your“right to remain silent” flows from your right against self-incrimination found in the 5th Amendment and Article I-12 of the Nebraska Constitution. The right applies to more than just questioning. You cannot be compelled to provide the State of Nebraska, through law enforcement, with any type of evidence that would serve to incriminate you. This is why, for example, you cannot be forced to submit to a breath test during a DUI investigation – because the results could be used as evidence against you. Never offer, consent, or otherwise hand over evidence against you to a law enforcement officer.
Right to Counsel
The right to counsel is found in the 6th Amendment and in Article I-11 of the Nebraska Constitution. The right attaches when judicial proceedings begin and continues through all critical stages of a prosecution. You may retain an attorney earlier, however, the state’s duty to provide you with an attorney if you cannot afford one does not begin until proceedings have been initiated against you.
Right to a Trial by Jury
Found in the Sixth Amendment and Article I-11, the right to a trial by jury is well known. The idea behind a “jury of your peers” is to ensure that an accused is not convicted without a group of his/her peers listening to all of the testimony and viewing all of the evidence first.
Right to Bail
Found in the 8th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article I-9 of Nebraska’s Constitution, the right to bail essentially means you have the ability to post a bond in almost all criminal prosecutions to secure your release while the case is pending. Bail can only be denied in the most serious of crimes, such as treason or first degree murder. In general, a judge is allowed to consider the following factors when setting bail:
- Seriousness of the charges against the defendant
- Risk of flight if released
- Potential risk to the community of released
Right to Confront and Cross-Exam Witnesses
Your right to confront and cross-examine witnesses against you is found in Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as well as Article I-11 of the Nebraska Constitution. Originally intended to prevent nameless, faceless accusations that once led to convictions and imprisonment, it now becomes an issue sometimes in drug cases where informants are used.
Right against Cruel and Unusual Punishment
The prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment is found in the Eighth Amendment as well as in Article I-9. Today, the 8th Amendment is most often brought up in discussions regarding the death penalty.
Criminal Defense Attorney and Your Rights
One of the most important aspects of a criminal defense attorney’s job is to ensure that a defendant’s rights are protected. No one should be convicted of a crime without due process of law and without the ability to assert his/her Constitutional rights when necessary.