The critical phrase “presumption of innocence” is nowhere in the Constitution. But it is deeply embedded in the laws of our country. Basically, the presumption of innocence means that every defendant is falsely accused. So, prosecutors do not start on ground level. Before they can build cases against defendants, they must dig their way out of the holes the law places them in. That process requires an overwhelming amount of evidence.
These important rights are not just technicalities. If the state can ignore them in one situation, it can ignore them in other situations as well. That’s why a Marietta criminal defense attorney is so determined to enforce the rights of criminal defendants. The battle is not solely for the benefit of the defendant. Indirectly, attorneys fight for everyone’s rights.
As mentioned, the state needs a massive amount of evidence to overcome the presumption of innocence and establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If an illegal search reduces the amount of available evidence, a Marietta criminal defense lawyer’s chances of success improve significantly.
According to the Fourth Amendment, search warrants must be based on probable cause. Usually, investigators don’t have direct evidence on this point. If they had such proof, they probably wouldn’t request a search warrant.
Indirect proof usually includes circumstantial evidence, like suspicious activity, and a paid informer’s testimony. These things are often enough to convince a judge to issue a warrant, since the burden of proof is so low. But a defense attorney has an opportunity to challenge this point later.
A provision in the Fifth Amendment requires grand jury indictments in felony cases. Technically, this provision does not apply to state felonies. The Supreme Court has never selectively incorporated this right and applied it to state governments.
So, at the state level, this right is more like a principle. Prosecutors must have an independent basis to bring criminal charges against people. They cannot fabricate charges or prosecute people they do not like. Instead, there are rules which must be followed.
Anyone who has ever watched a cop or lawyer show is probably aware of the right to remain silent. However, many people are not aware of the full extent of this right. Arguably, these fourteen little words (“nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself”) make up the broadest protection in the Bill of Rights.
This right applies from the moment custodial interrogation begins. Custody means the defendant does not feel free to leave, and interrogation means asking questions, even if they are not related to the criminal matter at hand.
Usually, custodial interrogation begins at a traffic stop. Most people don’t feel free to leave when they see flashing lights in their rearview mirrors. Furthermore, officers cannot even ask seemingly innocuous questions, like “where are you heading,” without first informing defendants of their rights. If they fail to do so, their answers are inadmissible in court.
An oft-cited statistic is that 90 percent of the world’s jury trials occur in the United States. But you do not have the right to any jury trial in this country. According to the Sixth Amendment, this jury trial must be:
- Speedy: The speedy trial right is a little vague. However, it’s clear that prosecutors cannot keep putting off a trial date hoping the defendant gives up and pleads guilty.
- Public: We are all usually on our best behavior in public. If we know or think someone is watching, we are much more likely to follow the rules. That’s one reason private trials (arbitration proceedings) are so controversial.
- Impartial: Jurors need not be ignorant about the case. But they must not have any strong feelings about it. Furthermore, the jury must remain impartial. Prosecutors cannot make argument or present evidence that have the opposite effect.
- Local: The state would move every trial to a foreign jurisdiction if it could. For most jurors, convicting a stranger is a lot easier than convicting a neighbor.
One reason the out-of-court settlement rate is so high is that prosecutors don’t want all these jury trial rules to handcuff them.
At a minimum, due process requires notice and an opportunity to be heard. This right is so important that there is a similar provision in the Fourteenth Amendment.
Due process is partially a structural right. Cobb County and other jurisdictions must have enough courts and judges to ensure that everyone who wants a jury trial gets one without undue delay. Empty shelves and long lines may be common at Walmart, but these things are unacceptable in criminal court.
This right also has some individual aspects. The Administrative Law Hearing in a DUI drivers’ license suspension matter is a good example. The state cannot unilaterally take this action, unless the defendant rolls over and does nothing.
Defendants have no coercive power in this area. When they ask a witness to testify, the person has an absolute right to say yes or no. This provision in the Bill of Rights enables defendants to pressure witnesses to appear and give testimony.
Much like the grand jury indictment right, there is a principle at stake here as well. Defendants should have access to evidence. Technically, the presumption of innocence is enough to acquit a defendant. But the presumption alone is not always enough.
Right to Counsel
All these rules, while helpful, do not change the fact that the state has almost unlimited resources in criminal cases. Aggressive prosecutors bring them all to bear in every case. Convicting defendants is usually the only way for them to climb the corporate ladder.
So, the right to counsel is game changing. Without lawyers, most defendants would be helpless against the power of the state. And, the Bill of Rights would just be ink on paper.
A Marietta criminal defense lawyer cannot possibly match the state’s resources. So, attorneys must make up for this deficiency in other areas. Experience may be the most obvious area. Other qualities, like commitment to individual rights, are even more important. Your criminal case is much too important to entrust to a less experienced or wishy-washy lawyer.
Know your rights and know how to assert them in court. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney in Marietta, contact The Phillips Law Firm, LLC. We routinely handle matters in Cobb County and nearby jurisdictions.