Constitutional Rights and Criminal Defense
One of the critical roles of criminal defense attorneys involves standing up for their client’s constitutional rights. Federal and state constitutions afford criminal defendants various protections meant to ensure a defendant receives a fair trial and require the government to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. However, those rights are powerful only if the defendant and the criminal defense lawyer enforce them.
At Broden & Mickelsen, LLP, our criminal defense attorneys have a proven track record of advocating for our clients’ constitutional rights. Our legal team has over 60 years of combined experience representing individuals facing criminal charges in trial and appellate courts in the state and federal systems. Our team includes board-certified specialists in criminal law and criminal appellate law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.
Understanding a Defendant’s Constitutional Rights
The federal and state constitutions guarantee certain rights of criminal defendants. Individuals have certain protections in the criminal justice system. The law recognizes that these rights are so fundamental that the intentional or even unintentional violation of them could lead to the dismissal of criminal charges against a defendant.
The accused’s constitutional rights require the government to meet its burden to prove a defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt before securing a conviction.
Key Constitutional Rights and Their Implications in Criminal Defense
The U.S. Constitution and its amendments provide specific criminal defendant rights and protections. Each state’s constitution has parallel provisions cataloging similar rights. Some of the constitutional rights that criminal defendants should familiarize themselves with include:
- Fourth Amendment – The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects people’s privilege against unreasonable searches or seizures by the government. The government usually obtains a warrant before searching an individual’s person, vehicle, home, place of business, or other property. However, law enforcement may conduct searches and seizures without a warrant under exigent circumstances when police have reasonable suspicion or probable cause, depending on the circumstances of the search or detention. Courts can exclude any evidence obtained in violation of a person’s Fourth Amendment rights.
- Fifth Amendment – The Fifth Amendment contains two criminal defendant rights. First, defendants have a privilege against self-incrimination. This privilege prevents the government from forcing a person to make inculpatory statements – saying things that would suggest guilt. The Fifth Amendment provides the basis for a defendant’s right to remain silent, one of the two Miranda rights. The court can exclude any statements obtained in violation of the Fifth Amendment. The Fifth Amendment also protects criminal defendants from double jeopardy, which means the government may not try a defendant twice for a criminal offense.
- Sixth Amendment – The Sixth Amendment is the right to a lawyer amendment. It affords criminal defendants several rights and protections, including the right to notice of their criminal charges, the right to a public trial, the right to a jury trial (except for offenses with maximum sentences of six months or less), the right to confront and cross-examine the government’s witnesses, and the right to an attorney.
- Eighth Amendment – The Eighth Amendment prohibits the government from inflicting cruel and unusual punishment upon criminal defendants or convicted persons. Examples of potentially cruel and unusual punishments include incarceration for mentally ill persons, excessive prison sentences, or mandatory life sentences for juveniles. The Eighth Amendment prohibits the government from imposing excessive bail or fines for arrests or convictions.
- Fourteenth Amendment – The Fourteenth Amendment affords criminal defendants due process and equal protection rights. Due process means a criminal defendant receives a fair criminal proceeding that follows laws and rules of criminal procedure and evidence. Equal protection means the government cannot treat a criminal defendant differently based on protected characteristics like race, color, national origin, religious belief, or sex/gender.
Common Violations of a Defendant’s Rights
Law enforcement officers, investigators, and prosecutors may intentionally or inadvertently violate a defendant’s rights.
Even an inadvertent violation of a criminal defendant’s rights can have negative consequences for the state’s case, ranging from excluding evidence or witnesses, issuing adverse inference instructions, or dismissing the charges.
Examples of common violations of the constitutional rights of defendants include:
- Stopping an individual for questioning or investigation without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity – although police may ask a person questions, they cannot restrict their ability to walk away without specific articulable facts supporting reasonable suspicion that the person has engaged in criminal activity
- Arresting a person without probable cause that the person has committed a criminal offense
- Searching a person’s home without a search warrant supported by probable cause of criminal activity
- Searching a person or their vehicle or containers without a search warrant or without exigent circumstances and probable cause to believe a search will uncover evidence of criminal activity
- Continuing to question a detainee after they have invoked their right to counsel and have yet to speak with an attorney
- Coercing a confession or inculpatory statements from a detainee, including through food, water, and sleep deprivation; physical violence; threats against a detainee or their family and friends; or other coercive tactics.
How Criminal Defense Lawyers Uphold Constitutional Rights
Criminal defense lawyers like those at Broden & Mickelsen, LLP, protect individuals’ constitutional rights in the criminal justice system. Our criminal defense attorneys’ knowledge and experience make it essential for defendants to obtain legal counsel as soon as possible after coming under criminal investigation or after an arrest.
Some of the ways our criminal defense lawyers uphold clients’ constitutional rights include:
- Sitting with clients during police interrogations to advise clients whether to answer questions and to ensure that law enforcement officers do not attempt to coerce inculpatory statements from a detainee
- Filing motions to exclude evidence or statements obtained in violation of a defendant’s rights
- Filing motions to dismiss a defendant’s charges when the prosecution fails to ensure the defendant receives a speedy trial or attempts to try a defendant a second time for a criminal charge
- Requesting adverse inference jury instructions when the prosecution loses or destroys exculpatory evidence
- Filing motions to exclude witness testimony when a defendant does not get the opportunity to cross-examine the witness
- Filing appeals when a defendant receives excessive bail or fines or an excessive or cruel sentence
If you have been arrested or charged with a crime, you must understand your constitutional rights as a criminal defendant. Contact Broden Mickelsen, LLP, today for a free, confidential consultation to speak with our criminal defense lawyers about your rights and to discuss how our firm can defend your interests and your future.