Perhaps you are familiar with Constitution Day, or maybe this year is the first you have heard of this holiday, a congressionally mandated law which passed in 2004. What is Constitution Day, and how important is our country’s Constitution in regards to criminal law?
This holiday was mandated by Congress in an effort to educate children and young adults from kindergarten through college age on our country’s founding document. On this day, schools must focus in some way on the Constitution of the United States. Today is the 226th anniversary of the signing of the most important document in our country’s history, one that guarantees our rights, freedom, and liberty.
Drafted and signed in Philadelphia during the Constitutional Convention held in 1787, there are several amendments which impact individuals charged with a criminal offense. Two of the most important include the Fifth and Sixth Amendments. Individuals who have been accused of a crime should be familiar with the Bill of Rights, which provides certain rights and presumes that every defendant is innocent, placing the burden of proving the defendant’s guilt on the prosecution.
The Fifth Amendment to our Constitution is where your “right to remain silent” comes in; you have the right not to speak, which is what criminal defense attorneys usually recommend when an individual suspected of a crime is questioned by police or law enforcement. Under this amendment, a defendant cannot “be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” The Fifth Amendment also protects those accused of committing a crime against double jeopardy. In other words, if you are tried for a crime and acquitted (found not guilty), you cannot be tried for the same crime twice. There are exceptions to this amendment which may apply if you are tried both in federal and state court.
The Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to a jury trial for defendants accused of criminal offenses other than petty offenses, a right to a speedy trial, right to be represented by an attorney, and the right to adequate representation (in other words, a capable lawyer who adequately defends his/her client).
Constitution Day is designed primarily for the education of our students regarding our country’s founding document. Online there are free educational resources providing challenges, iPhone apps, contests, quizzes and more to make the day more fun and memorable, hopefully instilling the importance of our country’s U.S. Constitution in the minds of our young people. More information can be found at Constitutionday.cc. Additionally, you can read this article for information specific to the Criminal Amendments in the Bill of Rights.
If you or a loved one have been accused of a crime in Michigan, consult with a trusted Michigan criminal defense attorney right away to ensure your constitutional rights are protected.