Constitutional Rights of the Accused

The U.S. Constitution guarantees numerous individual rights against abuses by law enforcement, although it is a constant struggle to ensure that police, prosecutors, and courts fully respect them. The assistance of an experienced Washington criminal defense attorney critical to keeping those rights secure. Some of the rights enshrined in the Constitution are well known, while others may not be as familiar. The following are some of the protections offered during the process of a criminal case.

Due Process - 5th and 14th Amendment

The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments provide that the State may not deprive a person of “life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” The Fifth Amendment also requires an indictment from a grand jury for most types of crimes. This requires the State to maintain clear procedures in criminal matters, and ensures that the State cannot convict someone of a crime without following those procedures.

Right to Counsel - 6th Amendment

A defendant in a criminal case has a right to representation by an attorney. This requires the State to provide an attorney for people who cannot afford one, and means that police may not interrogate a person who has requested an attorney.

Speedy Trial - 6th Amendment

The Sixth Amendment provides a right to a “speedy and public trial,” meaning the State cannot drag a case out for an unreasonable length of time, nor try the case entirely behind closed doors.

Jury Trial - 6th Amendment

Defendants in a criminal case have a right to have their case decided by an “impartial jury.” A considerable body of law has developed over the years regarding jury selection and the conduct of jury trials.

Confrontation of Witnesses - 6th Amendment

A criminal defendant has the right “to be confronted with the witnesses against him” under the Sixth Amendment. Typically this means that the State must present all evidence, including testimony of witnesses, it is using to prove guilt in open court, and to give the defendant the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses and challenge the evidence.

Suppression of Evidence - 4th Amendment

The Fourth Amendment prohibits “unreasonable searches and seizures” conducted by police without a warrant. It also allows a defendant to move for the court to suppress evidence obtained by the State in violation of this provision.

Self-Incrimination - 5th Amendment

No one may be compelled to give testimony against themselves, according to the Fifth Amendment. A person may refuse to testify in their own criminal proceeding, if they believe that testifying would help the State’s case. This is commonly known as “pleading the fifth.” The State cannot use a defendant’s refusal to testify as evidence of guilt.

Double Jeopardy - 5th Amendment

If a judge or jury acquits a defendant, the State generally cannot prosecute the defendant again for the same crime.

Excessive Bail or Fines - 8th Amendment

The Eighth Amendment requires that the State prescribe fines and other punishments that are reasonably proportional to the crime. It also prohibits courts from imposing unreasonable or disproportionate bail for people in police custody.

Cruel and Unusual Punishment - 8th Amendment

The prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment has been the subject of much litigation over the years, and the law may always be in a state of development on this issue. Punishments that might be considered “cruel and unusual” could include lengthy prison terms for nonviolent offenses, or the death penalty for any crime other than capital murder.

Criminal defendants in Tacoma and elsewhere in western Washington need the assistance of an experienced Washington criminal defense lawyer with knowledge of the state’s legal system. I have protected the rights of defendants in criminal cases for more than 15 years, helping obtain dismissals and acquittals, as well as plea agreements and verdicts with significantly reduced penalties. For a free and confidential consultation, contact the Law Office of Timothy L. Healy today online or at (888) 312-3093.