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Constitutional Amendments That Every Defendant Should Know

If you have been charged with a crime, there are several constitutional amendments you should be aware of.

Learning these amendments isn't for the purpose of making you smarter or to appear more worldly. Instead, your criminal defense lawyer can use them to defeat criminal charges and even help to exonerate you.

Here are some of the most important amendments for criminal defendants:

  • Fourth Amendment Search and Seizure. The Fourth Amendment protects personal privacy and every citizen's right to be free from unreasonable government intrusion into their persons, homes, businesses, and property. This can apply to a police officer's physical search of you during an arrest as well as the search of your home or car without a warrant. When law enforcement officers violate your rights under the Fourth Amendment, and a search or seizure is deemed unlawful, any evidence derived from that search or seizure will likely be kept out of any criminal case against you.

  • Fifth Amendment and Miranda Rights. These are the rights that the police should read to you during an arrest. Miranda rights include being told that you have the right to remain silent and not make any self-incriminating statements. If police fail to give you a Miranda warning, any statement or confession you make is presumed to be involuntary, and generally cannot be used against you in a criminal case.

  • Sixth Amendment Right to Counsel. Both the Fifth and Sixth Amendments give you the right to be represented by an attorney in most criminal proceedings. And not only do you have the right to counsel, but you have the right to competent counsel. So if your attorney is incompetent, you could get a new trial.

  • Trial Rights. Through a variety of amendments, criminal defendants are given certain trial rights. This can include the right to "confront" your accuser and witnesses (i.e., to cross-examine them), the right to a speedy trial, the right not to be charged with the same crime twice (double jeopardy), and the right not to face excessive punishment.

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