The Legal Rights of Criminal Defendants: A Detailed Guide


In order to function properly, a society must develop laws and practices that deter criminal behavior while protecting the citizens from unfair excesses by the state as well. Laws should encourage behaviors that are beneficial to the growth and prosperity of the society. The laws are also designed to discourage certain behaviors that can be detrimental to the society as a whole.

For example, theft, murder, and knowingly damaging the property of another person are criminal activities and people who commit these acts should be brought to justice.

However, laws also need to be fair and balanced. It is not uncommon for a state to impose laws that are so harsh that it becomes difficult for people to even carry out their daily activities without fear of repercussions from the state.

There are three main actors in every criminal case; the State prosecution, the adjudicating court and the defendant.

The Role of the State

Bringing forth criminal proceedings against a person is the State’s responsibility. The state attorney and law enforcement agencies gather evidence and witnesses against a suspect and present the case to a criminal court.

The Role of Courts

The court’s duty is to remain neutral during the proceedings, consider the evidence presented, and give a ruling based on legislation. The court may remove evidence from the case if the laws do not permit it to be considered. If a defendant is found guilty and punishment is prescribed, it must fulfill conditions of the law.

The Role of Defendant

Every person charged with the commission of an offense must be given the right to defend him or herself in court. The defendant can be represented by a defense counsel. If the defendant cannot afford to hire a lawyer, the court may also assign a lawyer to the defendant.

Legal Rights of Criminal Defendants

Every person facing criminal charges is granted and guaranteed certain rights by the state. Some of the most common rights include the following.

The burden of proof: One of the most fundamental rights in all criminal proceedings is that the burden of proof lies on the prosecution and not the defendant. The prosecution must prove beyond all reasonable doubt that the accused has committed the alleged crime.

Fair Trial: The defendant must be presented with a complete opportunity of defending him or herself in court. The law enforcement authorities cannot block the defendant from challenging or researching any evidence or cross questioning witnesses brought forth by the prosecution.

Right to Remain Silent: The US Fifth Amendment guarantees that a person cannot be compelled by the state to bear witness against himself. A defendant has the right to remain silent when interrogated by the law enforcing agencies. Furthermore, any testimonies obtained from a defendant through coercion, intimidation or unlawful means can also be challenged in court and removed from the court’s consideration.

Right to Public Trial: A criminal defendant who fears persecution may demand for a public trial to ensure that other citizens and press is present in court to observe any government breaches to his or her rights.

Right to a Quick Trial: A person can only be detained for a limited duration before his case is tried in court. The law agencies cannot hold a person indefinitely and cannot drag the trial in order to keep the criminal defendant under surveillance.

Right to Legal Counsel: A criminal defendant must be allowed a defense counselor to represent him or her in court. Where the defendant cannot hire a lawyer, the state must provide one for him/her.

Right against Double Jeopardy: A person cannot be tried for the same offense twice. This holds true even if the person has been acquitted by the courts and evidence comes to light that the person was guilty.

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