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Constitutional Rights of Defendants in Criminal Cases

One of the least understood aspects in the treatment of those charged under the criminal code is how the United States Constitution applies and protects defendants in criminal proceedings. While little is understood, much of the way criminal defendants are handled is a direct outgrowth of the constitutional rights outlined in the historic document.

It’s important to realize that the Constitution was ratified June 21, 1788. The Bill of Rights, which is the first ten amendments to the Constitution, took effect December 15, 1791. The Bill of Rights sets forth the rights of citizens of the new nation. It will have been in effect for 225 years as of December 15, 2016.


While the amendments appear in a seemingly random fashion, some study of the Bill of Rights is necessary to conclude what the rights of the people are. While some interpretation is necessary to arrive at a listing of rights, the following outline from provides a good understanding of the rights of those charged in criminal proceedings:

(A) In criminal prosecutions:

Not to have one’s natural rights individually disabled, except through due process of law, which includes:

(1) Not to be charged for a major crime but by indictment by a Grand Jury, except while serving in the military, or while serving in the Militia during time of war or public danger.

(2) Not to be charged more than once for the same offense.

(3) Not to be compelled to testify against oneself.

(4) Not to have excessive bail required.

(5) To be tried by an impartial jury from the state and district in which the events took place.

(6) To have a jury of at least six for a misdemeanor, and at least twelve for a felony.

(7) To a speedy trial.

(8) To a public trial.

(9) To have the assistance of counsel of one’s choice.

(10) To be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation.

(11) To be confronted with the witnesses against one.

(12) To have compulsory process for obtaining favorable witnesses.

(13) To have each charge proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

(14) To have a verdict by a unanimous vote of the jury, which shall not be held to account for its verdict.

(15) To have the jury decide on both the facts of the case and the constitutionality, jurisdiction, and applicability of the law.

(16) Upon conviction, to have each disablement separately and explicitly proven as justified and necessary based on the facts and verdict.

(17) To have a sentence which explicitly states all disablements, and is final in that once rendered no further disablements may be imposed for the same offense.

(18) Not to have a cruel or unusual punishment inflicted upon oneself.

(B) In all cases:

(1) To have process only upon legal persons able to defend themselves, either natural persons or corporate persons that are represented by a natural person as agent, and who are present, competent, and duly notified, except, in cases of disappearance or abandonment, after public notice and a reasonable period of time.

(2) Not to be ordered to give testimony or produce evidence beyond what is necessary to the proper conduct of the process.

There are many other rights outlined in the Bill of Rights, but these specifically apply to criminal prosecutions. Natural Rights, i.e. Life, Liberty, and Property, cannot be disabled, except under due process of law, with the following provisions. Major crimes require indictment by a grand jury, unless serving in the military at the time, and those acts are regulated under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

You may not be placed in double jeopardy, in that you may not be charged for the same crime more than once. You may not be compelled to testify against yourself. Excessive bail may not be charged. You have the right to be tried by a jury, of six in a misdemeanor case and 12 in a felony case. You have a right to a speedy public trial. All defendants have the right to the legal counsel of your choice or, if unable to afford an attorney, the court will appoint a lawyer for you.

You have the right to be told the accusations against you, to be confronted with witnesses against you, and to have the power of the court to compel appearance with favorable witnesses to aid your defense. Each count must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Jury verdicts must be unanimous and the jury does not need to justify its verdict. The jury will determine the facts of the case, the constitutionality of the case, the jurisdiction of the case, and the applicability of the law employed in the charges.

If convicted, each disablement of natural rights will be explicitly stated and the jury verdict is final. No penalties can be added after the penalty phase of the trial. No cruel or unusual punishments may be inflicted.

Finally, in all cases, only those who are capable of defending themselves may be tried, with representation, and you may only be asked to produce evidence relevant to the case at hand.

The Defenders can help

If you have been charged under the criminal code, the lawyers at The Defenders are capable and fully aware of the rights of the accused under the law and will provide a vigorous defense of those rights. Call us to discuss your potential case today at (702) 333-3333.

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