How do the federal and state constititions protect criminal defendants?
The United States Constitution provides fundamental rights which cannot be denied. All law must comply with the basic fundamental rights and guarantees provided by the United States Constitution. The protections afforded under the Constitution of the United States, as well the constitutions of the various states, are provided to all persons. Any law which violates constitutional law may be overturned through the court system and thus prosecution based upon such law would be prohibited. Courts are routinely asked to determine whether the prosecution of a person would violate Constitutional law.
The following are some very important provisions of the United States Constitution with respect to criminal matters:
The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable search and seizure. It states that a warrant shall be issued based upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation which describes the place to be searched and the person or things to be seized. There are many exceptions to the warrant requirement, such as exigent circumstances (an emergency which requires immediate action), consent, and search and seizure incident to an arrest. Some detentions ("seizures of persons") may proceed upon less than probable cause.
The Fifth Amendment provides several critical protections:
prohibition against double jeopardy (you may not be tried more than once for the same offense)
prohibition against self-incrimination (you may not be forced to testify against yourself)
prohibition against deprivation of life, liberty or property without due process of law
The Sixth Amendment provides you with:
the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury
the right to be informed of the law and potential punishment faced for violation of the law
the right to confront (examine at trial) witnesses against you
the right to compel witnesses in your favor to appear and testify at trial
the right to have an attorney for your defense
The Eighth Amendment prohibits excessive bail, excessive fines and cruel and unusual punishments.
The Fourteenth Amendment:
prohibits all States from enacting or enforcing any law which violates the privileges and immunities of the citizens of the United States
prohibits all States from depriving a person of life, liberty or property without due process of law
mandates that all persons are entitled to equal protection of the laws.
States are also prohibited, under Article 1, Section 10 of the United States Constitution, from making any "ex post facto law." An ex post facto law is a law that applies to crimes which were committed before the enactment of the law. Thus, a person can not be prosecuted for violation of a law which was made after the person committed the crime.
In addition to the United States Constitution, each State has enacted its own State Constitution. These state constitutions may provide additional fundamental rights and guarantees.