The U.S. Constitution, in the Bill of Rights, sets forth specific rights for anyone under investigation for, detained or charged with a crime. The federal courts have further defined the scope of these rights.
4th Amendment Rights
The 4th Amendment provides everyone with protection from “unreasonable searches and seizures.” The 4th Amendment also requires that a court find probable cause before issuing a search warrant. The courts have consistently held that these rights only apply if a person has “a legitimate expectation of privacy” in the place or thing to be searched. To determine whether such expectation of privacy existed, the court will ask the following questions:
- Did you actually expect some degree of privacy?
- Was your expectation objectively reasonable? Is society willing to recognize it as such?
Based on the unique circumstances of each case, the court may determine that you either had no expectation of privacy—perhaps you allowed unlimited access to the place or thing—or that your expectation wasn’t reasonable. If you fail to meet the test, any location—home, car, boat, office, bank records, safe deposit box, trash barrel—may be subject to a legal search.
To establish probable cause, the courts have held that police officers must be able to point to objective facts. An officer does not need the factual evidence necessary to prove a case in court, but it must be more than a mere suspicion. The determination of probable cause must be made by a judge, not by a law enforcement officer.
5th Amendment Rights
Under the 5th Amendment, you have the right to refuse to answer questions or make statements that might tend to incriminate you. This applies at any stage of a criminal investigation or prosecution.
The 5th Amendment also contains the “due process” clause, which prohibits you from certain consequences without due process of law. As the judicial interpretation of the due process clause has evolved, it has been subdivided into two guarantees: substantive due process and procedural due process. Substantive due process refers to specific rights, such as rights related to free speech, voting and association. Procedural due process ensures that the adjudication process—the way you are tried for a crime—is fair and impartial.
6th Amendment Rights
The 6th Amendment sets forth fairly specific rights for criminal defendants, including:
- The right to trial by jury
- The right to trial in a timely manner
- The right to be informed of the nature and cause of all accusations against you
- The right to confront witnesses against you
- The right to have legal counsel available to you
- The right to compel witnesses to testify on your behalf
The 8th Amendment prohibits excessive bail or cruel and unusual punishment (though it does not define either term).
The Miranda Warnings
In an expansion on the rights set forth in the Constitution, the U.S. Supreme Court established, in its 1966 ruling in Miranda v. Arizona, that anyone taken into custody be provided with notice of the following:
- That they have the right to remain silent
- That anything they say can and will be used against them in a court of law
- That they have the right to be represented by counsel
- That, if they cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for them
Though some of the provisions of Miranda have been weakened, it remains the law of the land.