Innocent until proven guilty is a term that we are all familiar with, but what does it mean? Though the term is not actually found in the constitution, the idea of presumed innocence has long been part of English jurisprudence and is considered common law. The constitution does embody the principal through several provisions in the fifth, sixth and eighth amendments.
Normally when we think of the fifth amendment, we immediately recall that we do not have to testify against ourselves in a trial. However, the fifth amendment protects us in more than one way. Those accused of a crime have the right to due process. This means, law enforcement can’t just decide the accused are guilty and lock them up and throw away the key. Rather, those accused of crimes are presumed innocent and the state must prove that they are guilty before a penalty is imposed. The accused does not have to prove that they are not guilty, instead, the prosecutor must prove that they are guilty. There is a different standard of guilt for different cases, but in general, it is the prosecutor’s job to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Rights of the Accused
- Protected against unreasonable search and seizure. Must have probable cause to obtain a warrant.
- Cannot be tried for a felony crime unless indicted by a Grand Jury.
- Cannot be tried for the same offence twice (double jeopardy).
- Cannot be compelled to witness against self.
- Must have due process.
- The right to a speedy, public trial with impartial jury.
- Must be informed of charges.
- The right to confront accusers.
- The ability to call witnesses.
- The right to counsel for defense.
- No excessive bail.
- No excessive fines.
- No cruel and unusual punishment.
If you are ever arrested for a crime, you should remember:
- You have the right to a lawyer.
- You have the right to remain silent.
- If you can’t afford a lawyer, one will be appointed for you.
- You have the right to know what your charges are.
- You do not have to testify in the trial.
- You have the opportunity to question witnesses against you (through your lawyer).
- You have the right to obtain witness for you.
- You are protected against unreasonable search and seizure. A warrant is needed, and if evidence was obtained illegally, it cannot be used against you.
- You have a right to be tried by a jury or your peers.
Presumption of innocence is behind the concept of bail. Since you are presumed innocent, you may pay a fee or bail amount to be released from jail to await your trial. The fee or bail is to guarantee that you will attend your subsequent court appearance. Even with the presumption of innocence, bail can be set high or withheld in certain instances where the crime is very serious, or if there is a flight risk. However, under normal circumstances, you may pay the bail and be released during the trial.
Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
It is not you or your attorney’s job to prove that you are not guilty of the crime. It is the prosecutor’s job to prove that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This means, once all evidence is presented, no reasonable person would question your guilt. If a reasonable person would question your guilt when seeing the evidence, then the prosecutors did not prove their case. Your attorney, however, can take an active role in disproving the prosecutor’s case by discounting evidence, questioning witness and calling witness on your behalf. Through your attorney, you can show that there is reasonable doubt and you did not commit the crime of which you are accused. Even though your attorney will work on your behalf, the burden of proof lies on the prosecutor’s shoulders since you are presumed innocent.
Right to a Criminal Defense Attorney
An important right is your right to a criminal defense attorney. The criminal justice system is complex and the laws are constantly changing. Hiring a quality criminal defense attorney is an important part of protecting your freedom. It is such an important part that it is specifically mentioned in the constitution. Using a criminal defense attorney is in your best interest, to ensure that your rights are protected and to ensure that you present the best defense possible. Contact Dennis F. Dwyer, Chicago criminal defense attorney, to learn more about how he can help you with your criminal case. He continuously studies the law so that he can provide his clients with the best defense possible. Protect your rights; call Dennis Dwyer today.