Being accused of a crime can be an awful experience, especially if the charges being levelled against you are unfair or based on bad investigative work. Now is not the time to be self-pitying, however. You need to stay sharp if you want to beat these charges! That starts with knowing exactly what your rights are, and how you might accidentally be stripped of them by your own actions.
An accusation against you, or even your arrest, does not carry the weight of a conviction. You are considered innocent until your guilt is proven beyond reasonable doubt. To enforce these civil liberties, the US Constitution has several provisions that give rights to accused persons like yourself. By understanding what they are, and how they are exercised, you may be able to save yourself from an unjust conviction!
1. The right to remain silent
Upon arrest, the apprehending police officer is required to read to you four constitutional rights (referred to as the Miranda Rights). The right to remain silent is the first one, and for good reason. This right enforces the principle that you cannot be forced to incriminate or provide testimony against yourself.The right to remain silent is a direct offshoot of the self-incrimination clause in the Fifth Amendment of the US Constitution.
You must declare that you are using this right as of the recent decision Salinas v. Texas. Simply remaining silent is not enough to invoke your rights. Say “I am choosing to exercise my right to remain silent”. Then, say nothing until you speak to your lawyer. You can invoke this right even during police interrogation, and it will have to be ceased.
Interrogation can only resume after the police officers have ‘scrupulously honored’ your rights as the accused. This is determined mainly by the length of time between the termination of the first interrogation, the commencement of the second, and the rereading of the Miranda warnings.
2. The right to be represented by counsel
You have the right to be represented by counsel. If you can’t afford legal counsel, the state is bound to give you one. This is one of the rights read in the Miranda Warnings.
If you can, you should choose a firm that is local and has a lot of experience with the type of law you need. If you live in Las Vegas, for example, and you need lawyers who know how to handle DUIs, you would come across firms like Las Vegas Defense Group during your search. Make sure you take advantage of a complete consultation before agreeing to representation, no matter who you choose.
During the preliminary stage, your lawyer will help you understand your rights and prepare for early court appearances. If the case gets past the preliminary stage, your lawyer will start preparing evidence for a trial.
Exercising this right is a necessity, because a lawyer has more knowledge, not only of the law, but of how the courts process cases and complaints. The courts can be very strict and mistakes caused by mere ignorance are not always forgiven.
3. The right to compel a witness to testify on your behalf
During trial, you as the accused have the right to gather favorable witnesses and compel those witnesses to provide testimony and/or material evidence on court. This right can be most easily lost if you just fail to take advantage of it, or are wrongfully convinced that their testimony shouldn’t be used.
You should compel witnesses that can support your side, even if you’re worried that it will be inconvenient for that person to appear. This is about your freedom, after all! It is the courts that will enforce this right. The courts will send subpoenas, and the recipients are required to appear on the specified date and time. If they fail to show, bench warrants can be issued. Such issuances call for their immediate arrest.
You are given this right to effectively minimize prejudice against you.