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The Constitutional Rights of Criminal Defendants

Due to the plethora of crime dramas on television, criminal law is much better known to laymen than civil law or constitutional law. And while terms such as “2nd Amendment” right to bear arms (carry guns) get thrown around on the news semi-regularly, most people don't think of criminal law as being fundamentally intertwined with our basic constitutional rights, or even as a ‘subsect' of constitutional law.

The Constitution

Most of the constitutional principles cited by criminal defense attorneys come from the first 10 Amendments in the constitution (also called the Bill of rights). It is important to note the Constitution only applies to government actors. This means that only those acting on behalf of a government body can violate constitutional rights (ie. police).

​​a. 1st Amendment

The 1st Amendment prohibits the impediment of the free exercise of religion, speech, press, the right to peaceably assemble or the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances. The 1s Amendment has become especially relevant as more and more people are being arrested for civil disobedience, filming police, or participating protests of the police- all protected 1st Amendment activities. Violations of 1st Amendment give a right of action to sue the bad state actor for civil damages under Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act.

b. 4th Amendment

The 4th Amendment prohibits “unreasonable search and seizures” and unreasonable government intrusion into their persons, whether through police stops of citizens on the street, arrests, or searches of homes, businesses, and cars. The right applies any time you are stopped on a sidewalk, pulled during a traffic stop, arrested, detained, or in the privacy of your home. Evidence seized in violation of the 4th Amendment is unlawful, and cannot be used against you in court.

c. 5th Amendment

The 5th Amendment protects you against self-incrimination. This is where the Miranda right, or right to remain silent comes from. It applies whenever you are taken into custody, and means that you do not have to say anything to the police, and can ask for a lawyer. Waived (voluntary) statements will be used against you, so it is best to not say anything. Statements that have been taken in violation of the 5th Amendment are also invalid and inadmissible as evidence.

The 5th Amendment also protects you from “double jeopardy,” meaning you may not be put on trial more than once for the same offense.

d. 6th Amendment

The 6th Amendment gives you several important rights:

  • 1) The right to confront a witness (meaning you may confront the person accusing you of a crime);
  • 2) The right to be notified of your charges;
  • 3) The right to a public trial (in a criminal case). This means that others may go observe your trial, and the presence of a defendant's family and friends, ordinary citizens, and the press can help ensure that the government behaves correctly during trial.
  • 4) The right to a jury trial except for petty offenses carrying a sentence of six months or less of jail time;
  • 5) The right to a ‘speedy' trial. However, it does not specify exact time limits. Thus, judges decide on a case-by-case basis whether a defendant's trial has been so delayed that the case should be thrown out. As dockets and prisons become more crowded, the scale of these ‘waiting periods' will also shift, and the government will have more discretion.
  • 6) The right to be issued an attorney in a criminal trial, if you cannot afford one. This is one of the most famous rights- indigent clients will be given a free lawyer (a public defender) in their criminal case. In the state of Washington, RCW 10.101 sets out the requirements of indigence.
  • e. 14th Amendment

While the 14th Amendment gives several famous rights such as the privileges and immunities clause, it gives 2 substantive criminal rights provisions:

  • 1) The right to due process. This means that legal proceedings must be fair, follow the proper protocols (ie. allow for the right to know the prosecution's evidence against you), provide for adequate hearings, etc.
  • 2) The right to equal protection. This means that one may not be treated differently based on race, gender, or religious affiliation. This is the most heavily litigated portion of criminal law, as racial profiling and unfair treatment of those in poverty has been shown to be rampant amongst most police forces.
  • f. The 4th, 8th, and 14th Amendment rights against ‘excessive force'

In 1989, Graham v. Connor held that a free citizen's right to be free from excessive force “in the course of making an arrest, investigatory stop, or other ‘seizure' of his person under the 4th Amendment. Notably, the 8th Amendment prohibits “cruel and unusual” punishment. This includes police undue force or military torture. Lastly, pretrial detainees have the same rights as convicted inmates under the 14th Amendment. They must show that restrictions were so restrictive and jailhouse conditions were so bad, that it amounted to ‘excessive force/punishment.' Victims of excessive force also have a right of private action for civil damages under Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act.

"Let My Extensive Experience as a Former Prosecutor Work For You."

Whether it be a felony, misdemeanor, juvenile case, DUI, or a traffic infraction case, criminal defense attorney Steve Karimi is committed to defending your constitutional rights. Whether that's dismissal or reduction of charges, a not-guilty verdict, or an alternative sentence, Mr. Karimi understands the challenges and frustration you face, as well as the best options available to your defense. If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime, arrested, or feel as though you were treated unfairly, the Law Offices of Steve Karimi can help. Call 206-621-8777 during regular business hours or 206-660-6200 24 hours a day for a free consultation. You can also e-mail us now to set up an appointment.

Contact Us

If you were arrested or a loved one has been charged with a crime in Seattle or surrounding areas of Washington State, the Law Offices of Steve Karimi can help. Call 206-660-6200 24 hours a day for a free consultation.

Seattle Defense Lawyer

Named a "rising star" in criminal defense by Washington Law and Politics magazine, Mr. Karimi is a former prosecutor for King County who uses his insight into prosecution strategies to protect his clients' rights in criminal court.