Tennessee residents may believe that the criminal justice system exists to ensure that people who commit crimes are punished accordingly, but one of its primary functions is actually protecting the innocent. The creators of the Bill of Rights and U.S. Constitution wrote them to restrict the powers of the government, and making sure that innocent people were not rounded up and imprisoned without due process was one of their highest priorities.
Most of the rights afforded the accused can be found in the Bill of Rights, which makes up the first 10 amendments to the Constitution. These rights include the following:
- The Fourth Amendment protects the right against unreasonable search and seizure. This is why police officers usually have to ask a judge for a warrant before they can search vehicles or properties.
- The Fifth Amendment states that criminal charges must be approved by a grand jury and prohibits prosecutors from trying a person more than once for a single crime. This amendment also gives the accused the right to remain silent and forbids imprisonment without due process.
- The Sixth Amendment gives the accused the right to a speedy and public trial in front of an impartial jury. During this trial, the accused has the right to confront any witnesses against them and call witnesses of their own. The Sixth Amendment also states that the accused has the right to be represented by an attorney.
- The Eighth Amendment prohibits courts from imposing cruel or unusual punishments.
The presumption of innocence
The Constitution does not specifically state that individuals accused of committing crimes are presumed innocent or include the words “beyond reasonable doubt,” but these are standards found in English common law that have been recognized by courts in the United States since its founding. They are now fundamental principles of American criminal law and are considered beyond dispute.
If you are accused of being involved in criminal activity, an experienced criminal defense attorney may advise you to assert your Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and your Sixth Amendment right to consult with an attorney before answering any questions or accepting a plea offer. These are the rights that police officers are supposed to inform suspects about when they make arrests, and failing to invoke them could might mounting an effective defense more difficult.