However, defendant rights are scattered throughout the Bill of Rights, covered by the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments. Also, applying those rights has evolved over time to ensure the states apply them through the 14th Amendment, which says they may not abridge (skip over) these rights through the Due Process Clause.
The 14th Amendment repeats an element of the Fifth Amendment. The Fifth Amendment forbids depriving a defendant of life, liberty, or property without due process of the law. The 14th Amendment repeats that phrase and requires the states to abide by it legally.
The rights provided by the various amendments apply in criminal prosecutions, which include only the acts that Congress has forbidden and penalized. These rights also apply to contempt of court proceedings.
Rights Accorded by the Fourth Amendment
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
The Fourth Amendment covers searches and seizures. It says that no search warrant may be issued without describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized as clearly as possible. It forbids any search or seizure performed without probable cause, meaning a “reasonable person” would conclude a crime has been committed or is about to be committed.
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Rights Accorded by the Fifth Amendment
“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”
You may recognize this Amendment as “pleading the fifth.” The Miranda warning includes elements of the Fifth Amendment when it states you have the right to remain silent and that anything you say can be used against you in a court of law.
The Fifth Amendment says you cannot be compelled to present self-incriminating evidence. Since an arrest may be seen as a compelling action, you receive a warning about remaining silent. However, if you volunteer the evidence anyway, the court can use it against you.
The Amendment also says you cannot be charged again for the same crime if the court acquitted you the first time. This is also known as the double-jeopardy rule.
Rights Accorded by the Sixth Amendment
“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.”
The Sixth Amendment pertains to your rights regarding a trial, also known as the right of Habeus Corpus — your right to go before the court can never be taken away or suspended.
The Amendment requires an impartial jury of citizens living in the same district where you allegedly committed the crime. You have the right to a speedy and public trial by a jury, and you have a right to an attorney. You have the right to confront witnesses against you and search for and engage witnesses in your favor.
The right to an attorney ensures you receive the assistance of a lawyer even if you cannot afford to retain one. Your right to an attorney includes advanced private consultations to prepare your case.
In counties with fewer than 250,000 people, the court has three working days to provide counsel. In more heavily populated counties, the court has one working day to appoint an attorney. If you were arrested on a warrant from another county, the county that issued the warrant processes everything.
You also have the right to waive a trial by jury if specific circumstances do not forbid it. You cannot waive your right to a jury trial if you are charged with a capital felony case, and the prosecution seeks the death penalty.
In all other cases, you can only waive your right to a trial if the court and prosecution consent, and you must submit the request in writing and an open court. Also, the court must appoint an attorney to represent you before you can agree to waive the jury trial.
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Rights Accorded by the Eighth Amendment
“Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”
The Eighth Amendment forbids cruel and unusual punishment and excessive bail or fines. Every defendant has a right to bail unless they are charged with a capital offense in which the evidence is clear and unmistakable.
The Amendment also ensures access to basic medical treatment while in prison.
A Word About Signed Pleadings
The general provisions of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure govern the process of signed pleadings.
Any plea, motion, or documentation filed on your behalf must contain your name, address, and name of the state, and either you or your attorney must sign the plea. Your signature certifies to the court that you have read the document and believe, after a “reasonable inquiry,” that:
- The information is groundless (untrue) and has been brought against you in bad faith
- The information is groundless and has been brought against you due to harassment, to cause unnecessary delay or another improper purpose
These factors also apply to you and your attorney. If you file a fictitious pleading for an improper purpose or make a false statement, you can be found guilty of contempt.
Suppose you or your attorney do not sign the necessary documents. In that case, the court must strike them, except when you sign immediately after the omission is called to attention.
Do You Need an Attorney?
Brett A. Podolsky believes that every defendant should be able to hire an affordable lawyer. An experienced criminal attorney can guide you through an appropriate defense and protect the rights listed above and more. Contact our office for assistance.