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Defense and Defendants’ Rights

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When you are arrested and charged with a crime, you become a defendant in a court case. A prosecutor can elect to prosecute that case, and it becomes the prosecutor’s responsibility to prove that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If you are able to introduce sufficient evidence that you might not have committed the criminal act, this is a sufficient defense and you should be found innocent under the law. Alternatively, you make an “affirmative defense” and argue that you did commit the act but not as a crime, for instance as an act of self-defense. In other words, the burden is on the prosecutor to prove that you did something wrong–all you have to do is prove there is another explanation.

In prosecuting a case, a prosecutor must ensure that none of your rights as a defendant are or were violated. For example, before you are arrested or taken into custody, the police must read you your Miranda Rights. In 1966 in the case of Miranda v. Arizona, the Supreme Court ruled that law enforcement officials must read you this list of defendants’ rights before conducting an interrogation. That means that even if you haven’t been arrested yet, if the police are formally investigating you and want to question you, they have to let you know that the Constitution gives you certain rights.

The Miranda Rights inform you of your right to remain silent and your right to be represented by an attorney. These are rights protected by the 5th and 6th Amendments of the Constitution. If the police fail to read you your rights, anything that you said in the interrogation is not admissible in a trial. That means even if you confessed to a crime, the confession cannot be used against you if the police didn’t read you your rights first.

Furthermore, if they interrogate you without reading your rights and you give the police information that allows them to find other clues in the case as part of the interrogation, none of the evidence they found based on your statements is admissible in court. The clues or evidence they find based on the illegal interrogation is considered tainted and thus cannot be used against you either. In some situations, cases have even been thrown out because prosecutors didn’t have enough evidence once they were forbidden to use the tainted confession or clues.

Other Rights

In addition to your Miranda Rights, you have several other rights as a defendant. First, you have the right to qualified legal counsel. If your attorney fails to provide an adequate defense as expected of a reasonably competent attorney, you can petition for a mistrial if you are convicted. You also have the right to question or face any witnesses against you, including the person or people saying you committed the crime. That means you have the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses as part of your defense.

Finally, you have the right to a speedy public trial conducted in front of a jury of your peers. The Sixth Amendment put these protections in place to ensure that you have a fair opportunity to present a defense and that you cannot be deprived of life or liberty without due process of the law. Under this rule, all defendants are assured the opportunity to prove, with affirmative defenses or by introducing reasonable doubt, that they are innocent of any crimes for which they have been accused.

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