How do the federal and state constititions protect criminal defendants?

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Sep 21, 2011

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The United States Constitution provides fundamental rights which cannot be denied. All law must comply with the basic fundamental rights and guarantees provided by the United States Constitution. The protections afforded under the Constitution of the United States, as well the constitutions of the various states, are provided to all persons. Any law which violates constitutional law may be overturned through the court system and thus prosecution based upon such law would be prohibited. Courts are routinely asked to determine whether the prosecution of a person would violate Constitutional law.

The following are some very important provisions of the United States Constitution with respect to criminal matters:

The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable search and seizure. It states that a warrant shall be issued based upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation which describes the place to be searched and the person or things to be seized. There are many exceptions to the warrant requirement, such as exigent circumstances (an emergency which requires immediate action), consent, and search and seizure incident to an arrest. Some detentions (“seizures of persons”) may proceed upon less than probable cause.

The Fifth Amendment provides several critical protections:

prohibition against double jeopardy (you may not be tried more than once for the same offense)

prohibition against self-incrimination (you may not be forced to testify against yourself)

prohibition against deprivation of life, liberty or property without due process of law

The Sixth Amendment provides you with:

the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury

the right to be informed of the law and potential punishment faced for violation of the law

the right to confront (examine at trial) witnesses against you

the right to compel witnesses in your favor to appear and testify at trial

the right to have an attorney for your defense

The Eighth Amendment prohibits excessive bail, excessive fines and cruel and unusual punishments.

The Fourteenth Amendment:

prohibits all States from enacting or enforcing any law which violates the privileges and immunities of the citizens of the United States

prohibits all States from depriving a person of life, liberty or property without due process of law

mandates that all persons are entitled to equal protection of the laws.

States are also prohibited, under Article 1, Section 10 of the United States Constitution, from making any “ex post facto law.” An ex post facto law is a law that applies to crimes which were committed before the enactment of the law. Thus, a person can not be prosecuted for violation of a law which was made after the person committed the crime.

In addition to the United States Constitution, each State has enacted its own State Constitution. These state constitutions may provide additional fundamental rights and guarantees.

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