A brief history on how the Bill of Rights came forth. Back in the late 1700’s, several states were called for a constitution to protect individual’s rights from the government. Through these calls, James Madison came forth and put together the Amendments, which was later signed in 1791(1). What started off as 17 Amendments was trimmed down to 10 main one’s which is where we stand now with the Bill of Rights. There are several key Amendments that tie into criminal law. Those amendments are 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 8th. The 1st amendment allows individuals the freedom of speech. This does not allow the government to arrest anyone who lets say wants sit on a racial protest, or disallow anyone from following different religions. We as individuals have the right to follow whatever religions we choose. Now there are some twists that come into play with this Amendment. It does allow the “Freedom of Speech” but there are five rules you cannot break before being arrested and charged. Those five rules are, obscenity, profanity, liberal slander and or fighting words (1). If you express any of these conducts, you are subject to being arrested. There was a case in New Hampshire, where a gentleman called a marshal, “God-damned racketeer.” He was later convicted, because he used profanity in his speech (1). This is a prime example of how there are limits to the First Amendment.
Moving our focus to the Second Amendment, it states “the right of people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.”(1) As we see with this Amendment, this gives individuals rights to carry a firearm around with them or at their home, depending on the states. Just like the First Amendment, there are limitations. For instance in D.C for you to have a firearm you must keep your firearm in your possession unloaded and disassembled by a trigger lock or similar devise unless kept at business place(1). This means if you’re living in D.C and an intruder breaks into your house; you’re a little out of luck trying to use your gun unless you can quickly assemble it back together. But in other states where it’s legal to carry a firearm around, it puts officers at risk because we don’t know the mental mind of every individual. They might fire back at us or cause harm to other people. A prime example is the Virginia Tech shooter. He supposedly got his firearm legally, but the tragic events that occurred after purchasing the gun were horrifying. This is why the debate over the Second Amendment will continue for a long period of time.
The Fourth Amendment is our right to be secure in one’s person, house papers, and effects from “unreasonable searches.” This Amendment is pretty straight forward that we as citizens can’t be searched without probable cause. So if an officer pulls over a car on suspicion of drug but there is no indication, the driver has the right to decline a search. That’s why when officers do drug busts on houses; it’s a process that can take several weeks before getting an arrest. They need to generate probable cause so they seize a search warrant. To achieve this, officers usually set up undercover agents to buy drugs from these individuals. Ones they’ve reached a certain amount buys and get the warrant from the judge, and then they may make entry into the house. Again this protects individuals households from being busted in with no probable cause and there may end up being nothing in those houses they broke into. This will allow the criminal law to punish the right individuals, while protecting the rest of use with our privacy.
The Fifth Amendment focuses on our right to a council from self-incrimination (1). This right takes place when a suspect is in custody. This allows them to not talk to officers when being questioned and appointing them a council if they cannot afford one. In criminal law, we have our set of law that are put in place and when broken you can become punishable. Not all suspects who are arrest are guilty. This amendment gives them the right to only communicate with their lawyer and not say anything to an officer that may be used against them in court.
The Sixth Amendment states, in criminal prosecution the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall be committed (1). With the rights to a speedy trial, defend cannot sit and wait around months for a hearing unless it’s due to gathering evidence or any other factors that may apply. In connection to criminal law, this relates that the defendant who broke a law will be punished but in a quick manner before ending up in prison.
The last Amendment that pertains to criminal law is the 8th. This amendment states that, “cruel and unusual punishment shall not be inflicted (1).” There are two kind of punishments that are tied to this amendment, the first is “barbaric punishments” and “punishment that are disproportionate to the crime committed.” Barbaric punishments were punishments that were no longer acceptable to civil society. Examples included were burring of the stake, crucifixion, and torturing or lingering deaths. Some did argue that electrocution of a person fell into this category, but the Supreme Court disagreed saying, “electrocution was certainly unusual but not cruel (1).” As long as the punishment was quick, then it was deemed acceptable. But if it was a crucifixion that involved mutilation of the body, then it was deemed unacceptable. The disproportionate punishment says that the punishment should fit the crime. One case that used this rule was, Weems v. U.S. 1910. Mr. Weems was convicted of falsifying a public document. The court sentenced him to 15 years in prison at hard labor with chains, and then took away his civil rights for the rest of his life. The court later ruled that this was not a punishment that fit the crime (1). All he did was turn in some false papers, not commit murder. With all these amendments in place, it helps balance the people from the government. Then when tying this to the criminal law, it protects individuals from getting wrongly accused or punished. These are some of the most important Amendments that apply to the criminal law.
1) "Bill of Rights of the United States of America (1791)." Bill of Rights Institute. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Oct 2013. http://billofrightsinstitute.org/founding-documents/bill-of-rights/.