Criminal Rights in the Bill of Rights






Criminal Rights in the Bill of Rights

Primarily, the criminal justice system is responsible for enforcing law and order and ensuring that every citizen is protected against harm. To achieve this, the government has granted it certain powers that enable them to enforce the relative laws. However, the constitution has also provided the accused with certain rights. This was essentially influenced by the need to create a balance between order and power. Thus as much as offenders break the law, they have a right to undergo a distinct procedure and fair treatment when determining whether they are guilty or not. This paper reviews the protections provided for in the Bill of Rights to individuals in the criminal arena. To enhance a harmonic consideration, it begins by underscoring the historical underpinning and then delves in discussing the respective rights. To accredit the study, it highlights relative important supreme cases and finally provides an informed opinion with respect to whether the criminal rights are too many, enough or balanced.

In his review, Levy asserts that the constitutional provisions of the rights of the criminals originated from the historic English documents that address the aspects of liberty. These constitute the Petition of Right of 1628, English Bill of Rights of 1689, and the 1215’s Magna Carta. Basically, the documents sought to limit the government’s application of the law and were even respected by the King. A classic illustration in this regard pertains to the Magna Carta section 39 that stipulated that any free man could not be imprisoned without having been judged by the law. The respective ideas are posited to have been introduced in America during the 1600s. The colonists expanded the provisions of the historic documents and integrated these in the 1641’s Massachusetts Body of Liberties. By independence, respective provisions were ingrained in the constituent and were widely accepted as being legal. The framers of the US constituted included these provisions in the final document that was based on the initial thirteen constitutions.

The fourth amendment seeks to protect the accused persons against unreasonable as well as unwarranted searches and property seizures. The amendment clearly lays down the conditions that require the government officials to acquire search or arrest warrants prior to executing the given activity. The underlying aim for this is to protect the right of the respective individual to security of their houses, effects, papers and persons related to them. The issuance of the arrest or search warrant on the other hand needs to be guided by a probable cause. Further, details regarding the place of search, the individual to be searched and the objects to be sought need to be provided with utmost precision. The search under this amendment needs to be carried out in cases where the individual expects privacy or the society affirms that the expectation of privacy under such circumstances is reasonable as provided for in Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 387 (1967).

The Fifth Amendment provides specific legal procedures that need to be followed during such instances. In particular, it stipulates that the government is not allowed to hold any individual answerable for a serious offense in the absence of appropriate evidence that implies that the person is guilty. Further, an individual is not supposed to be tried more than twice on a given crime. The amendment also stipulates that an individual should not be forced to witness against him or herself in any criminal case. Finally, it provides that the government should not deprive an individual of property, life or liberty without following the proper and fair legal procedures. These were well exemplified in Malloy v. Hogan (1964) in which defendants in courts were liable to being protected against self incrimination.

The Sixth Amendment also guarantees the individuals that are accused or suspected of crime against the government powers in different ways. To begin with, Bodenhamer cites that accused persons need to undergo a speedy public trial that needs to be undertaken before a non biased jury of the community or state in which the given crime was committed. Then, there needs to be sufficient information detailing the crime and reasons for the accusation. The government also needs to provide the accused with help from a professional lawyer and allow the former to meet the witnesses that are expected to testify against the individual. Finally, this amendment gives the individual a right to be accorded means of getting favorable witnesses. This was emphasized by the Washington v Texas (1967) case that provided that defendants have a right to a subpoena witness who would testify in their favor. In addition the Duncan v Louisiana (1968) case indicates that the person accused a crime has a right to be tried by a jury. Also, in the Klopfer v North Carolina (1967), it was reiterated that the accused have a right to be accorded a speedy trial.

The eighth amendment then protects the accused individuals from punishments that are overly harsh. In this regard, Ducat and Chase explain that this is all inclusive and comprises of excessive fines as well as bails. This was apparent in the Robinson v. California (1962) case in which state governments were prevented form using unusual or cries punishments. Also, in the Murphy v Hunt, 455 US 478 (1982), it was found out by the court that the accused had been unconstitutionally denied bail. Equally important is the fourteenth amendment that details general provisions regarding the rights of the individual against the government and state powers. In this respect, state governments are forbidden from formulating ad enforcing laws that are likely to deprive the accused of the right to property, liberty or life without following lawful procedures. In addition, state governments are compelled by the law to accord its citizens equal protection that is provided by the law.

The implementation of the preceding laws has raised various controversies since their enforcement. The issue pertaining to a probability of having given the criminals too many rights is particularly contentious. From a personal point of view, I agree that as much as the criminal might be guilty, s/he deserves a right to be treated fairly. This is so because of the surrounding uncertainties with respect to whether the former is guilty or not. When this is determined and affirmed, subsequent laws need to be more stringent in order to enforce justice. Also worth mentioning is the need for the criminal to be given a punishment that is reflective of the degree of the crime committed. Presently, the laws related to imprisonment are very lenient and can be implicated for a rise in incidences of repeat crime. These need be amended in order to protect the wellbeing of the victims too.


Bodenhamer, David. Fair Trial: Rights of the Accused in American History. New York Oxford University Press, 1992.

Ducat, Craig and Chase, Harold. Constitutional Interpretation. USA: West Publishing Company, 1992.

Levy, Leonard. Seasoned Judgments: The American Constitution, Rights and History. USA: Transaction Publishers, 1995.