One of the many blessings we have living in the United States is the unique protection all accused of committing any crime – be they citizens or aliens – are afforded by our Constitution. They have these rights whether suspected of committing the most serious felony or a minor misdemeanor. Though all 10 Amendments to the Constitution’s Bill of Rights protect us from unreasonable behavior by government officials, those that specifically apply to the accused are the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Eighth Amendments. This article will briefly explore each one to help you know your rights if arrested in St. Petersburg.
The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from unreasonable search and seizures if suspected of committing a crime. It says that police cannot swoop down on you without notice and look for anything they want to use as evidence against you. They must have a legal search warrant that specifies what they are looking for and why. They also must have “probable” cause that you are a suspect, which must be compelling to convince a judge to sign the warrant. There are exceptions to search and seizure without a warrant. One of the most common is evidence that is “in plain sight.” If, for example, you are stopped for a traffic violation, visible evidence may justify a further search of your automobile.
The Fifth Amendment addresses several important issues. It protects from self-incrimination (commonly called “pleading the Fifth”) from the moment a suspect is arrested, all the way through trial testimony. Another prominent protection is from double jeopardy. Once a jury has been empanelled and the trial has concluded, regardless of the reason — when the suspect has been found not guilty or the case was dismissed without a verdict, the state cannot retry that person for the same crime. It also states that a person may not be tried “for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime” (e.g., first-degree murder) without an indictment by a grand jury.
The Sixth Amendment guarantees any defendant the following rights if arrested in St. Petersburg:
- Your right to a public trial without unnecessary delay (known as the “speedy trial” law)
- The right to a defense lawyer (which is part of your “Miranda Rights” recited to you when arrested for a crime)
- The right to have a trial before an “impartial jury of your peers”
- The right to know the specific nature of the charges against you
- To have direct access to all of the evidence the prosecution has against you (known as “discovery”)
- The right to not only know who your accusers are, but also to confront them in open court
- And finally, the right to legally compel – if necessary – witnesses to appear in court to give testimony in your defense
The Eighth Amendment protects us from excesses in punishment and also addresses our ability to be released from jail between the time we are arrested and the day we must appear at trial. The saying “the punishment fits the crime” applies to both instances. If you are accused of misdemeanor theft of a $50 shirt, the judge cannot arbitrarily sentence you to 10 years in prison and a $5,000 fine if you’re found guilty. The appropriate Florida penalty for the crime is up to 60 days in jail and a maximum $500 fine, which is still serious enough.
Also, when citizens are charged with misdemeanor second-degree theft, the bail is normally a much smaller amount than a more serious felony theft. This is called the “proportionality” rule in granting a criminal suspect reasonable bail.
When arrested for allegedly committing any Florida crime, listen carefully when the officer tells you your Miranda rights and respectfully tell the officer you will make no statement without an attorney present. Then, when you are given your right to a phone call, set the wheels in motion to retain a criminal defense lawyer with Goldman Wetzel. If you or a loved one has been accused of any criminal activity or even suspect you are under investigation, contact us at 727-828-3900.