The Constitution and the Bill of Rights:
The United States Constitution was ratified in 1789, and provided the fundamental law of the United States. However, during the Constitutional Convention, the proposed Constitution was criticized for failing to protect basic individual liberties. As a result, many began to demand that a Bill or Rights was added, to list the specific natural rights of Americans. For example, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia declared: "A bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular, and what no just government should refuse, or rest on inference." The Bill of Rights was added two years after the Constitution initially went into effect, and formally ratified on December 15th, 1791. It makes up the first ten amendments of the Constitution, and states the basic rights possessed by American citizens. A significant number of these amendments involve the rights of the accused.
The Current Rights of the Accused:
- The Fourth Amendment: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
- This amendment protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government.
- The government must request permission from a judge in order to search someone's house, and justify their request with evidence.
- If probable cause is given, the judge may issue a search warrant, and the suspect can legally be searched.
- The Fifth Amendment: "No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."
- This amendment gives anyone charged with a major crime the right to present his or her case to a Grand Jury of twelve. The majority of these twelve individuals must agree that the accused is guilty, in order for them to be charged of the crime.
- It also outlaws "double jeopardy," meaning that someone cannot be tried twice for the same crime, if he or she is declared innocent.
- This amendment also protects citizens from self-incrimination, as it states that a person may not be compelled to testify against himself or herself.
- Additionally, the government can only take away a suspect's individual rights or personal possessions through the courts.
- The Sixth Amendment: "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense."
- This amendment guarantees that the accused receives a public trial in a timely manner.
- In addition, the accused is given the right to confront any witness.
- Any citizen who is being prosecuted also has the right to have a lawyer to help defend himself or herself.
- The right to a trial by jury is also given in Article 3 of the Constitution.
- The Seventh Amendment: "In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law."
- This amendment declares that even participants in civil lawsuits are entitled to a trial by jury.
- The Eighth Amendment: "Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted."
- This amendment forbids the imposition of excessive bail or of cruel or unusual punishment. It also guarantees individuals the right to bail, in the first place.
- Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution: "The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it."
- The Writ of Habeas Corpus prevents the imprisonment or detention of citizens without an indication of why they were being held. The government cannot arrest someone without telling them why.
- The phrase "Writ of Habeas Corpus" means "you may have the body" in Latin.
What Was Wrong?
Prior to the Miranda decision, the Constitution provided many rights to those who were accused. However, these rights were primarily only thought to be valid in a courtroom; not when the accused was arrested and interrogated The downside to this was that there was widespread police abuse in interrogating suspects, and thus, suspects often felt pressured to behave in whatever way would please the law enforcement official. As a result, forced, and often false, confessions occurred frequently.
Modifications to the Rights of the Accused:
Preceding the Miranda v. Arizona case, a number of other Supreme Court cases occured that resulted in minor modifications to the rights of the accused that were intially stated in the Constitution and the Bill or Rights.
- Brown vs. MS (1936): Use of involuntary confessions was prohibited.
- Powell vs. Alabama (1936): A defendant must have the right to counsel during any federal or state trial involving the death penalty.
- Spans vs. NY (1959): Confessions obtained by psychological trickery were not considered valid evidence.
- Gideon vs. Wainwright (1963): A defendant must have the right to counsel during any federal or state felony cases; these are cases involving robbery, murder, or other major crimes.
- Escobedo vs. Illinois (1964): The right to counsel goes into effect as soon as the police have focused their investigation on an individual, and the purpose of their investigation is to obtain a confession from that person. As a result, the accused now possessed the right to counsel during an interrogation, rather than solely during a trial.