Freddie Gray Tragedy a Lesson in Constitutional Rights

As Baltimore becomes the latest casualty of events transpiring from police brutality, another Justice Department investigation is underway for the multitude of constitutional rights Freddie Gray may have suffered at the hands of police.  Most people don’t think of criminal law as being fundamentally intertwined with our basic constitutional rights, or even as a ‘subsect’ of constitutional law.  The purpose of this post is to break down which fundamental constitutional rights have significant implications for the rights of criminal defendants.

The Constitution

Most of the constitutional principles cited by criminal defense attorneys come from the first 10 amendments in the Constitution (aka the Bill of rights).  Because the Constitution only applies to government actors, only those acting on behalf of the government (ie. police) can be liable for violating constitutional rights.

  • The 1st Amendment guarantees the free exercise of religion, speech, press, the right to peaceably assemble (ie. protest) or the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances.  This amendment has made its way into the spotlight again because more and more people are being arrested for civil disobedience, filming police, or participating in protests- all protected 1st Amendment activities.  Violations of 1st Amendment give a right of action to sue the state actor for civil damages.
  • The 4th Amendment prohibits “unreasonable search and seizures” and “government intrusion into their persons,” whether through police stops of citizens on the street, arrests, or searches of cars during traffic stops.  The right applies any time you are stopped, pulled over, arrested, detained, or in the safety of your home.  Evidence seized in violation of the 4th Amendment is unlawful, and cannot be used against you in court.
  • The 5th Amendment protects you against self-incrimination, which is where the Miranda right, or right to remain silent stems from.  This means that whenever you are taken into custody, you do not have to say anything to the police, and can ask for a lawyer.  Voluntary statements are statements that will be used against you, so it is best to not say anything.  Statements that have been taken in violation of the 5th Amendment (ie. a coerced confession) are also inadmissible against you in court. The 5th Amendment also protects you from “double jeopardy,” meaning you may not be put on trial more than once for the same offense.
  • The 6th Amendment gives you multiple rights: the right to confront a witness (meaning you may confront the person accusing you of a crime), the right to be notified of the charges against you, the right to a public trial in a criminal case, the right to be evaluated by a jury of your peers, and the right to a ‘speedy’ trial.  However, it does not specify exact time limits.  Thus, judges decide on a case-by-case basis whether a defendant’s trial has been so delayed that the case should be thrown out.  The 6th Amendment also gives you one of the most famous rights: the right to be issued an attorney in a criminal trial, if you cannot afford one.
  • The 14th Amendment prohibits states from violating an individual’s rights of due process and equal protection.  This means that legal proceedings must be fair, following the formal processes, and that defendants are not treated differently based on race, gender, or religion.  This is the most heavily litigated portion of criminal law, as racial profiling has been shown to be rampant amongst most police forces, including San Diego.

San Diego Criminal Rights Lawyer

The Law Offices of David M. Boertje is dedicated to protecting your constitutional rights and freedom, and has successfully represented many defendants, including those with charges that have been obtained.  We will seek a compromise whenever possible to help ensure the best outcome for your case.  If you have been arrested and charged with a crime, contact attorney David Boertje today for a free consultation.