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What Are My Basic Constitutional Rights as a Criminal Defendant?

Being accused of a crime can be one of the most frightening experiences of a person's life, especially if they have never dealt with the criminal justice system before. If you have been charged with a crime, it can be confusing to know who is ...

Being accused of a crime can be one of the most frightening experiences of a person's life, especially if they have never dealt with the criminal justice system before. If you have been charged with a crime, it can be confusing to know who is on your side or even know what your rights are during the trial process. While many people are aware that a defendant in the United States is presumed innocent until proven guilty and that the prosecution must prove his or her guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, criminal defendants are afforded several other constitutional rights which must be honored at all times.

Under the United States Constitution, your rights as a criminal defendant are as follows:

  1. Right to remain silent: The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution states that a defendant may not be "compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself." In other words, you have a right against self-incrimination and cannot be forced to speak. If you choose to remain silent, known as "pleading the Fifth," the prosecution cannot call you as a witness, nor can a judge or attorney force you to testify.
  2. Right to confront your accuser: The Sixth Amendment's "confrontation clause" gives you the right to cross-examine witnesses against you in court. Witnesses and accusers must appear in court to be questioned by your defense.
  3. Right to a public trial: The Sixth Amendment also guarantees you a public trial in criminal cases. This means that your family and friends, ordinary citizens, and members of the press may attend your trial - a factor which can be crucial to ensure your rights are observed during trial.
  4. Right to a jury trial: The Sixth Amendment also gives you the right to be tried by a jury, except if you are charged with a petty offense carrying a six-month jail sentence or less. Traditionally, this has been interpreted to mean a 12-person jury, though juries can be constitutionally valid with as few as 6 members. In most states, you cannot be convicted unless a jury verdict is unanimous.
  5. Right to a speedy trial: The Sixth Amendment also gives you a right to a "speedy" trial, though exact time limits are not specified. Judges are given the power to decide on a case-by-case basis whether a defendant's trial has been delayed so long that the case should be dismissed.
  6. Right to an attorney: The final right afforded to you under the Sixth Amendment is the right to have the assistance of legal counsel. If you are unable to afford an attorney, the government must provide you with one at its expense.
  7. Right to adequate representation: The United States Supreme Court has ruled that defendants have a right to receive adequate counsel, or a lawyer who does a reasonably good job at defending a defendant during both trial and plea bargaining.
  8. Right against double jeopardy: Under the Fifth Amendment, you may not be tried for the same offense more than once. You can, however, be brought to both criminal court and civil court for the same offense.

Depending on the severity of your charges, your chances of securing a favorable outcome may only be as good as the attorney you have by your side. If you are facing charges, it is urgent you contact an aggressive New Braunfels criminal defense lawyer from Kyle Law Firm as soon as possible to ensure your constitutional rights are guarded at all times throughout your case. With more than 60 years of combined legal experience, we have what it takes to protect your wellbeing and minimize your chances of conviction.

Call (830) 476-7780 or contact our firm online today to get started.

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