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The Bill of Rights Turns 230 Years Old

On December 15, 1791, the newly formed United States Government approved the first ten Amendments to the Constitution, commonly known as the Bill of Rights.

These rights are wide-ranging and include familiar protections such as freedom of speech and religion, the right to bear firearms, and the right to not have soldiers stationed in your home.

Nearly half of the Bill of Rights provides important criminal defense protections, and our law office makes great use of those protections every day on behalf of our clients. They include:

  • The right to remain silent. The Fifth Amendment allows any criminal defendant to not be “compelled … to be a witness against himself.” This means the government cannot force someone to testify about their own alleged criminal activity. It is up to the government to prove someone’s guilt; not the person being accused.
  • The right to confront witnesses. The Sixth Amendment provides that anyone charged with a crime has the right to cross-examine their accusers and “look them in the eye,” so to speak.
  • The right to a speedy trial. The Sixth Amendment guarantees that criminal trials take place as quickly as possible to avoid the possibility of a defendant waiting indefinitely for their day in court. If a case takes too long to prosecute, a judge may throw the entire thing out.
  • The right to a public trial. The Sixth Amendment guarantees that criminal cases are tried publicly before family, friends, the press, and other normal citizens. This helps to prevent governmental and judicial abuses of power behind closed doors.
  • The right to a jury trial. The Sixth Amendment gives criminal defendants the right to be tried by a jury for any major offenses. A unanimous verdict is required to convict someone; if even a single juror does not join in the verdict, a mistrial can be declared and the criminal defendant may go free.
  • The right to an attorney. The Sixth Amendment guarantees that anyone charged with a crime has the right to “the assistance of counsel for his defense.” If someone cannot afford the help of a private attorney’s office (like Kenny, Burns & McGill), they can still ask the judge to appoint an attorney to represent them free of charge.
  • The right to avoid double jeopardy. The Sixth Amendment protects defendants from being tried twice for the same offense by the same jurisdiction. However, this doesn’t prevent someone from being tried by a state government and the federal government for the same offenses.
  • The right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from being searched (or their possessions being seized) without probable cause and, often, a warrant signed by a judge. Anyone who is searched without probable cause can argue that the search was unconstitutional.
  • The right to a fair sentence. The Eighth Amendment provides that “cruel and unusual punishments” shall not be imposed upon anyone convicted of a crime. For instance, someone convicted of shoplifting could not, under normal circumstances, be sentenced to life in jail.

It is important to remember that you have valuable criminal defense rights under the United States Constitution. Today we celebrate the 230th birthday of those rights, and we celebrate the thousands of families our law firm has protected using those exact rights.

If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges, call or text Kenny, Burns & McGill right away for a free consultation: (215) 423-5500.

Our experienced criminal defense lawyers practice throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey, representing people who have been charged with such small offenses as retail theft, right up through serious charges like murder.

We are not afraid to fight for the rights of our clients. In fact, we insist on it.

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