What are constitutional rights and why are they so important to us? Our Constitutional rights are in place to protect us from wrongful conviction and improper police behavior. Originally these rights were made in reaction to the abusive conduct displayed by British authorities during Colonial times. Without the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, we would not be a democracy, but instead we would become a communist country. The Constitution is pretty much our basis of freedom, because boundaries are set and it gives the government guidelines to which ones they can interfere with without violating them. Most importantly, citizens should know and understand their rights. Most Americans are familiar with the Fifth Amendment due to the popular phrase “I plead the fifth,” which is used as a defense in trials.
But what should be familiar are the protections that we might take for granted such as the protection from double jeopardy. This means that a person cannot be tried more than once for the same offense (Salky, 2010). When reading the Fifth Amendment it could be agreed upon that this is where the right to remain silent and the Miranda Rights emerged from.
The Fifth Amendment reads: “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” The Fifth Amendment also protects from self-incrimination which stops the government from compelling a person to give testimonial evidence that would incriminate them. Self-Incrimination can be broken into four components which are:
* In a criminal proceeding versus a noncriminal proceeding
* A witness
* A witness against oneself
Compelled is when a suspect is forced to testify. This situation could take place in three different forms which are, during questioning, in written documents, and when a person is threatened with noncriminal sanctions. A criminal proceeding and a noncriminal proceeding has a general rule that a defendant has the right to remain silent and can refuse to answer questions that would incriminate them. And an admission cannot be preceded by a police questioning. Next is a witness that is protected by the Fifth Amendment from self-incrimination, but also from things that people would say in a communicative nature rather than a testimony. Last is a witness against oneself includes that the only person that can assert the Fifth Amendment is the person being questioned (Pearson Higher Education, 2012).
When considering the relationship between the constitutional rights and confessions, it is important that citizens are knowledgeable of their rights as well as law enforcement officers being aware of the issues that come with it. Officers must understand the implications of a confession and its safeguards. The constitutional rights to obtaining a confession can be found in the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment gives people the right to be secure in their homes and anything within in it from unreasonable searches and seizures. The Fourth Amendment will also suppress any evidence gathered from an illegal entry which is better known as the “fruit of the poisonous tree.” In the case Wong Sun v. United States, narcotic agents unlawfully entered Toy’s laundry and Toy indicated that Yee was selling narcotics.
The agents found Yee along with drugs and he made a deal to give up the supplier Wong Sun. The agents were able to arrest Wong Sun and he voluntarily returned to the police station to make a statement. At Yee’s trial it was found that the drugs were excluded as part of the fruit of the poisonous tree because the search was done without a warrant. Wong Sun’s lawyer argued that his confession should be excluded as well, but an exception was found because he voluntarily returned to the station to make a statement (Kessler, 2010). The Fifth Amendment as it pertains to confessions, states that “no person shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against themselves. The Fifth Amendment was created to protect individuals against self-incrimination, and any confession obtained when it is in violation of the Amendment will be inadmissible in court. The case Miranda v. Arizona involves Ernesto Miranda who was arrested based on evidence linking him to a kidnapping and rape.
Miranda signed a confession to the rape, but he was never told his right to counsel, his right to remain silent, and that his statements would be used against him during the interrogation before being presented the confession form. His lawyer argued that the confession should be inadmissible, but due to the confession and other evidence it was overruled. The Sixth Amendment also plays a major role in confessions, because it entitles a defendant to have a counsel present during interactions between the defendant and government. The case in which Rhonda Theel and Donnie Ray Ventris went to the home of Ernest Hicks is a perfect example of the relationship between the Sixth Amendment and confessions. It was reported that one or both of them killed Ernest, and took money, his cellphone, and fled away in his truck. Both suspects were charged with burglary and robbery, but Theel agreed to testify against Ventris.
Prior to the trial, a police informant was placed in Ventris cell. Ventris confessed to shooting Ernest Hicks in the head and chest. During the trial, the court came to the decision that the confession obtained by the informant was in violation of the Sixth Amendment, meaning the evidence cannot be used in court unless he had a counsel present or he was advised of his rights and voluntarily waived them. However, when Ventris took the stand to testify against the statements made by the informant, it entitled the prosecution to use the statements made by Ventris. Basically, if he didn’t take the stand, the prosecution would not have been able to use the testimony made by the informant. When dealing with identification processes, there are only two constitutional rights that stand out, and they are the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment.
The Sixth Amendment gives the right to counsel only in certain circumstances. A suspect that is within a lineup does not have the right to a counsel, but a witness does because it insures that the identification procedure is fair. The Fourteenth Amendment will always apply to the identification process because due process comes into play which requires that all citizens are granted equal protection. So if the process is too suggestive, it will violate the Fourteenth Amendment (Pearson Higher Education, 2012). The Fourth and Fifth Amendment doesn’t really apply to the identification process directly.
The only thing the Fourth Amendment could do is protect from an unlawful search or seizure which main priority is to secure identification. And the Fifth mainly pertains to a witness confession. Referring back to Miranda v Arizona, although he voluntarily went with the officers to make a statement, they initially never read him his rights which resulted in self-incrimination. It is amazing to know that our Constitution has been around for over 200 years, and yet there are articles, books, and lesson plans that are still being generated. Having such a great democracy, we as a country still complain about the way the legal system is ran and why some laws even exist. But in reality if the Constitutional rights never existed, we wouldn’t be the free country that we are today.
Kessler, Jesse V. (2010). Fourth Amendment: Select Issues and Cases. Nova Science Publishers.
Available from: eBook Collection. Retrieved January 19, 2013. Pearson Higher Education (2012). Interrogations and Confessions. [PowerPoint Slides]. Retrieved from: http://content-crj.kaplan.edu. Pearson Higher Education (2012). Identification Procedures and the Role of the Witness. [PowerPoint Slides]. Retrieved from: http://content-crj.kaplan.edu. Salky, Steven M. (2010). The Privilege of Silence: Fifth Amendment Protections Against Self Incrimination. (12thed.). American Bar Association.
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