Supreme Court Decisions on Constitutional Criminal Procedure

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  • 0:01 Criminal Procedure
  • 1:10 Gideon v. Wainwright
  • 2:31 Miranda v. Arizona
  • 3:35 Mapp v. Ohio
  • 4:45 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jason Nowaczyk

Jason has a masters of education in educational psychology and a BA in history and a BA in philosophy. He's taught high school and middle school

This lesson discusses the important Supreme Court decisions that established the rights a person has while in the criminal justice system. A short quiz follows the lesson to check for your understanding.

Criminal Procedure

Many of us are probably familiar with the fact that our Constitution gives us a number of rights that protect us from many things. Some of these rights come in very handy should we find ourselves in trouble with the law, but let's hope it never gets to that point. But, if it ever does, there are a number of constitutional amendments that have been used as the basis for establishing criminal procedure rules.

Criminal procedure is the set of rules and regulations for processing individuals through the justice system. Criminal procedure also outlines the rights the defendants have from arrest through any potential trial and sentencing, as well as the order of steps by which a person proceeds through the justice system. While states and local municipalities may have slightly different criminal procedure codes, almost all places model themselves closely off of the set of federal rules passed by Congress.

In this lesson, we will cover three important Supreme Court cases that have looked at the constitutional amendments that helped establish the set of criminal procedure rules at the federal level. These cases include Gideon v. Wainwright, Miranda v. Arizona, and Mapp v. Ohio.

Gideon v. Wainwright

Let's imagine for minute that you've been arrested for a senior high school prank gone awry. Your friends decided it would be funny to spray paint in giant letters all over the building that 'SENIORS RULE!' There was no video surveillance footage of you and your friends on camera committing this crime, and all there was to go on were rumors from those pesky juniors that they heard you and your friends were going to commit the crime. You are then arrested, and, upon your trial date, you realize that you cannot afford a lawyer to help defend you.

The same problem occurred to Earl Gideon in 1963 in the case of Gideon v. Wainwright. Earl Gideon was accused of a crime in Florida and was too poor to afford a lawyer to defend him. Up to this point, Florida had only offered lawyers in trials where a sentence could potentially include the death penalty. Gideon ended up defending himself and was found guilty.

He later, though, petitioned the court to overturn his conviction on the grounds that his Sixth Amendment rights to a fair trial had been violated because he was not offered a lawyer. The Supreme Court felt that indeed the right to a fair trial extended to all criminal defendants and should include the right to an attorney in all criminal cases. So, lucky for you and your prank case, if you were too poor to afford an attorney, your trial judge would have to provide one for you.

Miranda v. Arizona

Now, let's tweak our test case a bit and say that before you went to trial and during your arrest the police would constantly ask you details of the prank and flat out ask you if you and your friends were the ones responsible. What do you do? Should you answer the police officer's questions? The short answer to this is that you do not have to answer a police officer's questions because, in most cases, you have a right to remain silent, but if you do decide to answer any questions, the police must let you know how your answers will affect you in court.

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