Once the police target you as a suspect in a criminal law case, interrogate you, and prosecute you, you may feel as if all of your rights have been taken away. However, as a criminal defendant you have many constitutional rights.
Every defendant in a criminal case is guaranteed the following:
- The right to remain silent. This means if police interrogate you, you aren’t forced to respond to their questions. In fact, in most situations it’s best if you say nothing until you’ve had the chance to consult an attorney.
- The right to an attorney. You are guaranteed an attorney by law. If you can’t afford one, you will be appointed an attorney, either the public defender or a private attorney.
- The right to a speedy trial. Although what’s considered “speedy” varies, you aren’t allowed to be held for years without a trial. You may choose to delay the trial to give your attorney more time to prepare, but if you want your case to be prosecuted quickly you have that right.
- An assumption of innocence. In the American court system, you are innocent until proven guilty. Therefore, it’s up to the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the crime that you are accused of.
- The right to cross-examine and confront witnesses. Witnesses against you are allowed to be cross-examined. By law, you have the right to confront any accuser to make sure the full truth is known.
- The right to compel witnesses to testify. You are allowed to use the court’s power to force people to testify even if they don’t want to, with a few exceptions.
Although if you are on trial, it may appear that the deck is stacked against you, you actually have plenty of rights you should take advantage of. One of the most important of those is the right to an attorney. Don’t decide to plead guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence without consulting an attorney – you may have valid defenses that you hadn’t considered.