Law and Order: Procedural Rights of the Accused

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  • 0:02 Procedural Rights of Accused
  • 0:56 Remain Silent &…
  • 2:46 Right to Public Trial
  • 4:02 Right to Jury & Speedy Trial
  • 5:43 Right to Adequate Attorney
  • 7:16 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jennifer Williams

Jennifer has taught various courses in U.S. Government, Criminal Law, Business, Public Administration and Ethics and has an MPA and a JD.

In this lesson, we will learn about the procedural rights of the accused. We will look at how these rights are defined and what they mean to our justice system today.

The Procedural Rights of the Accused

The procedural rights of the accused are defined as the general procedures and protections that the accused are afforded in our justice system. These rights are mainly contained within the Bill of Rights, which is the collective name for the first 10 amendments to the United States Constitution.

An individual who has been charged with a crime is afforded the protection that he is innocent until he is found guilty by a court. This individual is also afforded the right to have the state or federal government have the burden of proving him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Apart from these two fundamental protections afforded defendants in the criminal justice system, there are also other procedural rights guaranteed to him by the Bill of Rights.

The Right to Remain Silent

The right to remain silent is defined as the right to not be forced to say anything. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution states that a defendant 'cannot be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.' A defendant cannot be forced to testify in his own trial, and the defense attorney cannot force a defendant to speak.

For example, if a defendant is on trial because he is accused of stealing a book from a library, the prosecutor cannot call the defendant to testify to say if he committed the crime or not. Nor can the defense attorney force the defendant to testify in his own case. This is because the defendant has the right not to say anything at all.

The Right to Confront Witnesses

The right to confront witnesses is defined as the right to cross-examine the witnesses against you. This has also been called the confrontation clause and is contained within the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution. This is important because the defendant should be able to 'confront' the witnesses that are accusing him of a crime face-to-face. In addition, the prosecutor can't just bring in written statements of the witnesses; she actually has to bring in the witnesses in person.

For example, if a defendant is accused of striking a police officer during a traffic stop, the defendant has a right to have the officer come into court and testify as to what happened during that stop and what injuries she may have received. There are several exceptions to this (such as young child victims), but in most cases, the defendant has the right to confront his accuser.

The Right to a Public Trial

The right to a public trial is defined as the right to have an open courtroom so the public can witness proceedings. This was important to our ancestors because of the fear of what would happen behind closed doors in secret proceedings. Therefore, the right to a public trial was incorporated into the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution. The presence of the public and the defendant's supporters in the courtroom proceedings ensures that the court will observe the rights of the defendant and conduct a fair hearing.

There are exceptions to the rule, however! What would happen if several witnesses to a crime were all allowed to sit in the courtroom while the other witnesses were testifying? Do you think there is a risk they would change their testimony in order to make it more similar to the other witnesses? Or do you think their own recollection of events may be tainted? Courts that have evaluated the right to a public trial have had the same concerns; therefore, if a witness is under subpoena to testify in a trial, they may be excluded from listening to the trial and being present in the courtroom unless it is time for them to testify themselves.

The Right to a Jury Trial

The right to a jury trial is defined as the right to be tried by a jury of the defendant's peers. This right is protected by the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution and is considered one of the most important of the defendant's procedural rights. It has been incorporated throughout the world.

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