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What Are My Rights as a Criminal Defendant?


criminal defendant in courtJust because you are being charged with a crime does not mean that you do not have rights. The Constitution provides strict rights for all criminal defendants – and if those rights are violated, your case could be dismissed. The most essential protection that you have under the Constitution is the requirement that the prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are guilty. But, this isn’t the only right you have.

Your Rights

Just some rights that you have as a criminal defendant include:

  1. The Right to Remain Silent – This is under the Fifth Amendment. You cannot be compelled to act as a witness against yourself. This means that you cannot be forced to testify or answer questions that may incriminate you. A judge and an attorney cannot force you to testify, either.
  2. Right to Confront a Witness – Under the Sixth Amendment’s “confrontation clause,” you have the right to confront any witnesses against you. This gives you the right (or to have your attorney) examine eyewitnesses. Prosecutors are also forbidden from proving your guilt with hearsay testimony or witnesses who cannot be examined.
  3. Right to a Public Trial – You are also guaranteed the right to a public trial under the Sixth Amendment. The only time when this right may not be granted is when the public is barred because of the victim – such as a trial involving children. The judge can also exclude witnesses from the courtroom in order to prevent one witness from influencing the testimony of others.
  4. Right to a Trial of Your Peers – You have the right to a jury trial. This is provided to you under the Sixth Amendment as well, and you can have a jury trial except in cases where the jail sentence is six months or less. If you choose to waive your right, you will receive a bench trial – a trial overseen and determined by a judge.
  5. Right to a Speedy Trial – The Sixth Amendment states that you will have the right to a speedy trial; however, this is often not as quick as you would think. Every jurisdiction will have its delays, and there are time limits for how quickly a case can move forward. In most cases, it could still take months or years to complete a trial.
  6. Right to an Attorney – Every criminal defendant has the right to an attorney – even if he or she cannot afford one. If a defendant cannot afford an attorney, the court will provide him or her with one (i.e., a public defender).
  7. Right to Adequate Representation – This is an important right that many defendants do not realize they have. If you are represented by an attorney who proves to be inadequate or does not represent you to the best of his or her ability, you may have a violation of your rights. You must have adequate representation – but note that there is a difference between what the courts see as “adequate” and what they see as “perfect.”
  8. Right Against Double Jeopardy – This means that you cannot be tried with the same case twice.

Speak with a Criminal Defense Attorney – Exercise Your Constitutional Right

If you are being accused of a crime or you have been arrested, you have the right to a criminal defense attorney. Contact New Mexico Criminal Law Offices today. We can discuss your case and the evidence that will be used against you. Our attorneys have helped countless individuals with cases involving DUIs, child abuse, assault, battery, drug crimes, and more. Schedule a consultation now by calling 505-375-4764, or fill out our online contact form with your legal questions.