What is a Defendant?
A defendant is any individual or legal party that is required to answer the complaint of a plaintiff in a civil suit or any party who is formally charged or accused of violating a criminal law. In the majority of jurisdictions, a criminal defendant is any party formally tried as the accused. Defendants in criminal trials are taken into custody by law enforcement agents and brought before a court. This process is held distinct from the defendant’s initial actions in a civil suit. In civil trials, the defendant will typically make a voluntary court appearance in response to a summons. The actions of a defendant and the efforts of his or representing legal counsel, is regarding as the party’s defense.
The Rights of a Criminal Defendant:
When a party (legal entity or person) is charged with a crime, they officially become a criminal defendant. In order for the party to be convicted and subsequently punished for the underlying crime, the presiding court must bring a case against the party to prove that he or she is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The rights of the criminal defendant are affirmed by the United States Constitution. The constitution assures all criminal defendants to a number of rights which limit the manner in which the court can investigate, prosecute and punish the accused. These rights include the right to remain silent, the right to seek legal aid, the right to a speedy, public trial (heard by a jury) and the right not to be tried for the same crime more than once.
The Right to Remain Silent: All criminal defendants have the right to remain silent; this liberty impedes the defendant from self-incrimination during the arrest process and the subsequent trial. In most instances, the defendant’s counsel will advise the individual on when it is best to remain silent or provide a testimony on his or her behalf.
The Right to Representation: A criminal defendant is awarded the right to legal representation. If the defendant is not in the financial state to hire a lawyer, legal aid will provided by the state. The right to adequate legal representation impedes the defendant from further prosecution as a result of his or her lawyer’s blunders. Moreover, the defendant is awarded the right to decline legal representation and represent him or herself.
The Right to a Speedy, Public Trial by Jury: All criminal defendants are awarded the right to a public trial, held before a jury comprised of unbiased citizens. This right affirms that the state will not conduct clandestine hearings that may violate the defendant’s individual liberties.
Criminal defendants have the right to be tried by a jury. The jury, in regards to its makeup, will vary from state to state, however, all juries must consist of members of the community randomly selected by the court and approved by the lawyers for the defendant and prosecuting side. Furthermore, a criminal defendant possesses the right to a speedy trial. This right will protect the defendant from sitting idle in jail for extended periods of time before guilt has been established. Courts will not guarantee the defendant a trial within a set amount of time; rather, the right to carry-out judicial efficiency is simply encouraged and promoted by this right.
Double-Jeopardy: When a trial is properly conducted, the state is not allowed to retry the defendant for the same crime. That being said, criminal defendants may face civil claims that overlap or are added to the individual’s criminal charges. For example, in murder cases, the government or state is responsible for prosecuting the suspect for the murder, however, the victim’s family or friends can file additional claims against the suspect for the murder. Moreover, a criminal defendant can be charged by the state and the federal government for the same infraction.
The Criminal Defense Timeline:
The criminal defense process begins with a formal stop made by a law enforcement officer. A police officer can legally stop any party for questioning under probable cause law. Though this initial stop is not an arrest, the officer may pose questions inferring to a possible arrest. In addition to questioning, the officer can frisk the suspect, if the officer believes the suspect is dangerous or in possession of contraband. During a pat down search, an officer is not allowed to reach into the suspect’s pockets, unless they identify or feel objects that they believe are contraband.
In addition to a stop, a criminal defendant can be formally accused following a search. Search warrants are court orders that legally allow a law enforcement officer to search for specific items, within a specific place—such as the suspect’s home or place of work. To secure a warrant, the officer must demonstrate probable cause; this means the officer can only secure and use specific items latent in the warrant to prosecute the suspect. Furthermore, the officer must present the warrant to the suspect before searching the individual’s property. The following elucidates on the different types of searches connected to the criminal defense timeline:
Consent Search: The suspect may allow him or herself, their residence, or their vehicle to be searched with their expressed consent. Law enforcement officers may not search the individual’s property without probable cause, consent or a warrant.
Vehicle Searches: When an individual is stopped and arrested for a traffic or driving violation, the officer will need probable cause to search the compartments (glove compartment and trunk) of the vehicle. The officer is permitted to observe the contents inside the vehicle that are in plain sight.
A Search Incident to Arrest: Occurs when a law enforcement officer searches a person’s body and clothing for illegal items while making a valid arrest.
Plain View: Refers to an officer’s ability to search an individual’s property for any incriminating evidence that is in direct sight of the officer. The officer has the right be in the position to view illegal objects.