Criminal Constitutional Rights

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 What Are Constitutional Rights?

Constitutional laws are the rights and laws which originate from the Constitution of the United States, which was signed in 1787. The laws found in this document embody the rules and regulations that govern the country and the rights of the individuals who reside in the United States.

Constitutional laws govern and regulate the federal, state, and local governments in the U.S. These laws provide the legal parameters for what the government is permitted to do and what it is forbidden to do as well as outlines the basic rights of the country’s citizens.

In addition, every state in the United States has its own constitution that governs its citizens. Constitutional law is commonly associated with specific fundamental rights, including:

  • Equal protection;
  • The right to bear arms;
  • Freedom of religion; and
  • The right to free speech.

The authority on all constitutional law issues is the United States Supreme Court. The only way to override a decision which is made by the Supreme Court is a constitutional amendment that is approved by three-fourths of the states.

Constitutional lawyers are lawyers who assist their clients by defending the U.S. Constitution as well as the rights and freedoms which are guaranteed to citizens of the United States. Constitutional lawyers play an important role in protecting the freedoms within the country as well as the rights and freedoms that are promised in the Constitution.

In the United States, constitutional laws are the supreme laws of the land. Any other law or rule that Congress or the states create cannot violate the Constitution.

A constitutional lawyer is able to represent a plaintiff in litigation when they believe their constitutional rights have been violated. The Constitution provides numerous freedoms and civil liberties for United States citizens.

These civil liberties determine what individuals are free to do and what the government is prohibited from doing. A constitutional right is essentially a right which protects individuals from unfair and unconstitutional treatment by the federal or state government.

Constitutional law governs a broad area of cases and may be very complex. Constitutional claims may include numerous issues, such as:

  • Police wrongdoing;
  • The government passing a law that conflicts with the rights of individuals;
  • An employer discriminating against an employee; and
  • A governing body depriving an individual of any of the following without due process of law:
    • Their right to life;
    • Their right to liberty; or
    • Their right to property.

The United States Constitution guarantees a variety of rights which are protected and the government cannot infringe on these rights. Important constitutional rights, outlined in the Bill of Rights, include:

  • 1st Amendment: The first amendment protects an individual’s:
    • freedom of speech;
    • freedom of religion;
    • freedom of assembly;
    • right to vote; and
    • other rights;
  • 2nd Amendment rights: The right to keep and bear arms; and
  • 7th Amendment rights: The right to a trial by jury.

Every state is permitted to expand on the basic rights, rules, and regulations which are contained in the Constitution. States cannot, however, supersede, or override, the rights which are granted by the Constitution.

As previously noted, the Supreme Court of the United States is the final decision maker in any disputes regarding the constitutionality of an issue. There are very few cases that actually reach the Supreme Court.

Each year, the Supreme Court receives over 7,000 cases for review. The Court typically hears just over 100 of those cases. Other federal or state courts may preside over cases involving constitutional issues that include issues related to a state’s constitutionality.

The Constitution of the United States is a unique document which is considered by many individuals to be a living document that evolves and grows with the changes in society. The Supreme Court will consider:

  • The issue that is before it;
  • How the Constitution applies to the issue in the case; and
  • Past cases that are similar and which may shed light on a potential resolution to the present case.

Which Constitutional Rights Apply in a Criminal Case?

Although there is technically not a body of laws called criminal constitutional law, criminal procedure is a branch of constitutional law which governs the procedures by which crimes are:

  • Investigated;
  • Prosecuted; and
  • Adjudicated.

There are specific provisions in the United States Constitution that restrict law enforcement and provide the rights of a criminal defendant. These rights are derived from the Amendments to the Constitution.

These rights apply in the majority of criminal cases and may often form the basis of a defendant’s defense to a charge. There are numerous constitutional rights which apply in criminal cases, including:

  • 4th Amendment rights: Protect individuals from illegal search and seizure by law enforcement without a proper warrant or a warrantless exception;
  • 5th Amendment rights: Protect:
    • an individual’s due process rights;
    • the right to avoid self-incrimination;
    • the right to be silent during a custodial interrogation; and
    • the right against double jeopardy;
  • 6th Amendment rights: These include:
    • the right to a speedy trial;
    • the right to an impartial jury;
    • the right to assistance of counsel;
    • the right to confront witnesses, or cross-examine them at trial; and
    • the right to informed of the charges brought against you in a criminal proceeding;
  • 8th Amendment rights: These cover rights involving excessive bail and cruel and unusual punishment in a criminal proceeding; and
  • 14th Amendment rights: There are numerous due process rights which are protected under the 14th amendment.

There are numerous different constitutional rights which may apply in criminal cases, many of which the average individual may not be aware of. This is why it may be helpful to have an attorney’s assistance if an individual is charged with a crime to ensure that their constitutional rights are protected, even those they may not know about.

What Happens if a Constitutional Right is Violated?

The consequences for a violation of constitutional rights will depend upon the nature of the right which was violated. For example, if evidence was seized in a criminal case illegally without a warrant, it is a violation of the defendant’s 4th Amendment rights.

The consequence for this violation would include the suppression of the evidence that was obtained by the illegal seizure. In other words, the illegally obtained evidence would not be able to be used at trial against the defendant.

Another example would be the prohibition on trying a defendant for the same offense twice. This is considered a violation of an individual’s 6th Amendment right against double jeopardy.

If this occurs, any ruling or conclusion which is reached in the second trial would not be considered valid and cannot be cited in subsequent convictions. Therefore, a violation of a defendant’s criminal rights may have far-reaching effects on the outcome of a trial.

Violations may also affect other potential charges in the future if a defendant faces another criminal trial.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With Constitutional Rights in a Criminal Case?

Constitutional rights provided to citizens of the United States are intended to support the concepts of justice and equality in the criminal justice system. If an individual has any issues, questions, or concerns regarding their constitutional rights in a criminal case, they should contact a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.

Your lawyer can advise you of your rights as well as the constitutional laws which apply in your case and if your rights have been violated. If you are required to appear in court, your lawyer will represent you.


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