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Fundamental Rights of the Accused

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Many of an accused person’s most basic rights are set forth in the Bill of Rights.

The Fourth Amendment provides some of the most critical protections. It states that people are protected against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government and that police may not issue an arrest warrant without probable cause “supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

The Fifth Amendment provides people with the right not only to refuse to incriminate themselves but also to stand before a grand jury. It further guarantees that no person may be accused twice for the same crime “nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

The Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to a trial by a jury of peers in a timely manner. It also states that a defendant “must be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation.” Additional Sixth Amendment rights include the right to confront witnesses testifying against the defendant, to have certain witnesses be served with “compulsory process” to testify in the accused party’s favor, and to have legal counsel available.

The Seventh Amendment guarantees a jury trial under certain circumstances, and the Eighth Amendment forbids the imposition of excessive bail or of cruel or unusual punishment.

All of these rights continue to be reinterpreted and, in some cases, expanded and diminished under new Supreme Court opinions.

One of the most important Supreme Court cases to guarantee basic rights to an accused person is Miranda v. Arizona. The Court’s decision requires arresting officers to inform those they take into custody of the following, known as Miranda rights:

1. They have the right to remain silent.
2. Anything they say can and will be used against them in a court of law.
3. They have the right to be represented by counsel.
4. A lawyer will be appointed for them if they cannot afford to hire one.

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