Skip to Content

Rights of Accused People

Notice some of the key provisions in the “Bill of Rights.”

The Fourth Amendment protects against “unreasonable searches and seizures.” The Fifth Amendment protects a person from being tried twice for the same crime (double jeopardy), and allows a person to refuse to testify against himself. The Sixth Amendment mandates a speedy trial for the accused.

All three of these amendments have allowed criminals to escape justice. Americans grumble about some of these constitutional protections, without considering their historical significance.

The founders of the nation fought against a political system in which arbitrary search and seizure by military forces, arrest without trial, and other abuses were rampant. More recently, the rights guaranteed by these amendments have expanded to protect citizens from excesses by overzealous law enforcement efforts.

In American tradition, although the public has an interest in fighting and controlling crime, the rights of the accused stand at the top, along with freedom of religion and freedom of speech. Without these rights, the possibility of a police state in which the other freedoms could be put in jeopardy would always be present, and all the rights, with the constitution itself, would be eroded.


Next Section:The Executive Branch

Government and Law: Chapter Home

Life in the USA Home Page.