As a Georgia resident, you are entitled to all of the protections afforded by the U.S. Constitution. The 14th Amendment requires the states to uphold individuals’ constitutional rights, and this includes all rights that apply before, during, and after an arrest. If police violate your constitutional rights, then any evidence obtained as a result of the violation may be deemed inadmissible in court. Likewise, if state prosecutors violate your constitutional rights, this could mean that you are entitled to an acquittal without the need to defend yourself at trial.
However, constitutional issues are rarely straightforward. Most police officers and prosecutors do their best to comply with the law, and this means that most constitutional violations are unintentional. Additionally, despite more than 200 years of precedent, there are still many grey areas when it comes to determining when an act or omission crosses the line into the unconstitutional territory. That said, asserting your constitutional protections can be an effective defense strategy in many circumstances. In this article, we countdown 10 of the key constitutional protections that apply in Georgia criminal cases, and then we discuss the potential consequences of constitutional violations for criminal defendants in Georgia.
10 Constitutional Protections that Apply in Georgia Criminal Cases
10. The Right to a Jury Trial
As a criminal defendant, the Seventh Amendment guarantees you the right to a trial by a jury of your peers. While you can waive this right (although this is not something you should do unless advised by your attorney), neither the prosecutor’s office nor the court can deprive you of your right to a jury trial in a criminal case.
9. The Right to a Speedy Trial
The Sixth Amendment provides several important protections to criminal defendants in Georgia, one of which is the right to a “speedy and public trial.” If you are unfairly prejudiced by a delay in your trial date (which requires a thorough analysis of the specific facts and circumstances involved with the delay), then you may be entitled to walk free.
8. The Protection Against Double Jeopardy
Under the Fifth Amendment, you cannot be prosecuted twice for the same offense arising out of the same set of events. You can be forced to go through a second trial if the jury is unable to reach a decision or the judge orders a mistrial for other reasons; but, if you get acquitted, then your case should be over.
7. The Protection Against Ex Post Facto Laws
If you do something and then Georgia makes it illegal, you cannot be prosecuted retroactively. This is known as the prohibition against ex post facto laws.
6. The Right to Know the Evidence Against You
Another protection afforded by the Sixth Amendment is the right to know the evidence against you. Before your trial, you are entitled to conduct “discovery” in order to obtain information about the prosecution’s case. If the prosecutor’s office withholds any evidence (or subsequently obtains evidence and does not disclose it), this may constitute a violation of your Sixth Amendment rights.
5. The Right to Confront Witnesses
The Sixth Amendment also entitles criminal defendants to confront any witnesses against them. This means that the prosecution cannot present police officers’ or other witnesses’ testimony unless you are afforded the opportunity to conduct a cross-examination.
4. The Requirement for “Reasonable Suspicion”
Under the Fourth Amendment, the police cannot stop a person unless they have “reasonable suspicion” to believe that the person has been involved in criminal activity. There are some exceptions (including DUI checkpoints in Georgia); but, generally speaking, the police cannot stop people arbitrarily or on a discriminatory basis.
3. The Requirement for “Probable Cause”
A stop is different from an arrest. While a stop requires “reasonable suspicion,” an arrest requires “probable cause.” If the police arrest you without probable cause (or if they conduct a warrantless search in violation of the Fourth Amendment’s probable cause requirement), they are in violation of your constitutional rights.
2. The Right to Remain Silent
The Fifth Amendment affords you the right to remain silent once you have been accused of a crime. If the police or prosecutors violate your right to remain silent, then anything you say subsequent to the violation could be inadmissible in your Georgia criminal trial.
1. The Right to an Attorney
Finally, and most importantly, you have the right to an attorney. This right exists under the Sixth Amendment, which states that, “the accused shall enjoy the right to . . . the assistance of counsel for his [or her] defense.”By hiring a defense attorney as soon as possible, you can ensure that you avoid costly mistakes and assert all of the defenses that are available to you under the U.S. Constitution and Georgia law.
Can You Avoid a Conviction by Proving that Police or Prosecutors Violated Your Constitutional Rights?
So, let’s get back to our original question: What happens if Georgia police or prosecutors violate your constitutional rights?
While the specific circumstances of your case will determine what options you have available, the general rule is that evidence obtained in violation of a suspect’s or defendant’s constitutional protections is inadmissible in criminal court. If the violation did not result in the collection of evidence (i.e. if you were denied your right to a speedy trial or your right to know the evidence against you), then the violation could entitle you to have your case dismissed. Either way, in order to assert your rights, you will need to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney who can effectively argue your constitutional protections on your behalf.
Speak with an Augusta, GA Criminal Defense Lawyer at Davis, Chapman, & Wilder, LLC
Have you been charged with a crime in Georgia? Do you believe that the police or prosecutors may have violated your constitutional rights? To discuss your case with one of our experienced criminal lawyers, call our Augusta, GA law offices at 706-200-1578 or request a confidential consultation online today.