Defining the Right to Due Process
Despite what many people argue, our constitutional rights are still relevant today. One, in particular, the right to due process, is especially important. Protected under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment, our right to due process means we cannot be convicted of a crime without fair legal proceedings. In plain terms, we have a right to argue our case before being convicted.
What Our Right Means
Due process is more than just a promise of standard court proceedings. It's a form of protection. It helps ensure we aren't convicted without of a full consideration of the facts. We have a right to a fair legal procedure, which is a system of checks and balances that protect the public and require the State follow protocol before convicting someone of a crime.
How to Make the Most of Due Process
Importantly, our right to due process works to our advantage, but only if we learn about it and exercise it. One of the most crucial of our rights is our right to legal counsel. You have a right to an attorney before being questioned. You'd be surprised how many people don't exercise this right because they don't know how.
Whenever you have an encounter with law enforcement of any kind, you have a right to remain silent when being questioned. If law enforcement wants to question you and you refuse, they can't coerce you or threaten you. And, if you cannot afford an attorney, most jurisdictions must give you access to free or low-cost legal services (e.g. a public defender). Many people think they won't be arrested if they answer questions and cooperate with police. Instead, most people are arrested when they refuse to answer questions and must be booked into jail before they can speak with an attorney.
The Prosecution Process
Criminal prosecution follows a standard procedure. Once the police arrest you, they will submit a sworn report to the district attorney's office. From there, the district attorney reviews the report and decides whether or not to file official charges. Civilians cannot file charges against you. They can only provide information to the police. The district attorney is a bottleneck in that respect. This is important to understand because if you involve an attorney early enough, he or she might be able to speak with the district attorney and convince him or her to not file charges.
After Charges are Filed
Once charges are filed, you will be arraigned. This is your first court hearing. The judge will read you your rights and the charges you face before asking you how you plea. This is another situation where many don't exercise their right to due process. Many plead guilty or no contest thinking they can just get it over with and move on. You have a right to plead not guilty (even if you think you are guilty) and ask for a trial. Most criminal cases are resolved prior to trial, but asking for a trial ensures you will have every chance possible of winning your case.
Once you request a trial, both parties must gather and submit, which is called discovery. If the prosecution cannot gather enough evidence to convict you, your case could be dismissed at this point. This period also gives you a chance to gather evidence in your favor. Without this chance, however, you forfeit your right to due process.
Again, most cases resolve before trial with either a dismissal or a plea bargain. But you have to plead not guilty first to have the chance. To get a plea bargain, you will have to plead guilty but usually to a lesser offense.
Exercising Your Right
Don't waive your right to due process, even if you think you are guilty. It's your right. Always exercise your right to an attorney even if you think you can handle your charges on your own. Defendants without legal counsel can be taken advantage of, so speak with a Visalia criminal defense attorney about your charges so you can learn about and exercise all your rights.
If you are facing criminal charges, we can help you defend yourself. California attorney Christopher Martens knows California criminal defense and will help you fight for your rights. With over ten years of criminal defense experience, Mr. Martens has handled thousands of cases and has helped many Californians fight their charges. Serving the Visalia and Fresno areas, The Law Offices of Christopher Martens can provide expert criminal defense counsel. Call our office at 559-967-7386 or email us at [email protected] for a free consultation.