What Rights Do People Have When They Are Suspected or Accused of Crimes? Handout
Read the protections in the Bill of Rights that are summarized below. Then answer the questions that follow.
- People, their homes, and their possessions cannot be searched or taken by the government without a good reason.
- In most cases, the police must get a warrant (permission from a judge) before they can conduct a search.
- People who are accused of crimes do not have to give evidence against themselves.
- People cannot be tried again for a crime for which they have been found innocent.
- People's lives, liberty, or property cannot be taken from them without due process of law.
- A person accused of a crime has the right to a speedy, public trial by a jury (other citizens).
- People must be told what crimes they are accused of.
- People have a right to question the persons who are accusing them.
- An accused person has the right to have a lawyer.
- People arrested for crimes are entitled to be free on reasonable bail (money deposited with the court) while awaiting trial.
- If a person must pay a fine, it must be a fair amount.
- People found guilty of crimes shall not be punished in cruel and unusual ways.
Suppose the police think you have committed a crime and come to arrest you. Which of the rights you have just read about do you think would be most important to you? Why?
Gideon v. Wainwright
Clarence Gideon was accused of breaking into a poolroom in Florida. Police said he had stolen a pint of wine and some coins from a cigarette machine. Gideon was a poor, uneducated man who was 50 years old. He did not know much about the law. However, he believed he could not get a fair trial without a lawyer to help him. When Gideon appeared in court, he asked the judge to appoint a lawyer for him. He was too poor to hire one himself. The judge told him that he did not have the right to have a lawyer appointed for him unless he was charged with murder.
Gideon was tried before a jury, and he tried to defend himself. He made an opening speech to the jury and cross-examined the witnesses against him. He then called witnesses to testify for him and made a final speech to the jury. The jury decided he was guilty. Gideon was sent to the state prison to serve for five years.
From prison he wrote a petition to the Supreme Court. It was handwritten in pencil. He argued that all citizens have a right to a lawyer in cases where they might be sent to prison.
- Should Gideon have been given a lawyer to help him? Why or why not?
- Should the right to have a lawyer mean the government has to provide one to anyone who cannot afford one? Why or why not?
- Should lawyers be appointed to help people accused of breaking any laws, even traffic laws? Why or why not?
- When should a person have the right to a lawyer? Upon arrest? Before being questioned? Before the trial? After the trial, if the person thinks the trial was unfair and wants another trial?
- Should defendants have the right to have the services of other experts to help them prepare for their trials? Fingerprint experts? People to find Witnesses? Psychiatrists?
This lesson was adapted from "We the People…Level 1." Copyright 1988, Center for Civic Education. Reproduced with permission.