It’s a question commonly asked of criminal defense attorneys: how can you represent someone who is guilty? Setting aside the loaded nature of the question, criminal defense attorneys serve a vital role in our legal system. As an experienced, Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer, Lauren Wimmer believes that everyone is entitled to competent, aggressive legal representation. If you would like to speak with her about your case, contact Wimmer Criminal Defense Law at 215-712-1212 to schedule a free consultation.
Because You Are Innocent Until Proven Guilty
While not expressly set forth in the United States Constitution, the presumption of innocence is one of the most fundamental rights in Western Civilization. The prosecution must prove that you are guilty - it isn't enough to simply charge you with a crime. Criminal defense lawyers represent the accused to make sure that the prosecution can actually prove their case.
Because Criminal Defendants Have Rights Under Our Constitution
The United States Constitution guarantees several fundamental rights to criminal defendants. These rights are not contingent upon whether or not you are guilty - they are provided to every criminal defendant in every case.
As a society, we have decided that the protection of our constitutional rights is more important than whether someone is convicted. In other words, to be a nation of laws means upholding the law even when we don’t like the outcome. If criminal defendants had to defend themselves, there would be almost no protection of their rights, giving law enforcement and the prosecution an unfair advantage. Criminal defense attorneys play a vital role in our criminal justice system by ensuring that those constitutional rights are protected and upheld.
The Fifth Amendment
The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees four rights that are very important to criminal defendants:
- The right to a grand jury. In order to charge you with a serious crime, the prosecution must first persuade a grand jury that there is sufficient evidence to support the charge. This prevents prosecutors and law enforcement from frivolously or maliciously charging you with crimes they have no chance of proving just to harass you. While prosecutors still tend to “over-charge” their defendants in order to increase the likelihood of a conviction, the Fifth Amendment requires that they at least have some legal basis to support the charge.
- The right to be free from “double jeopardy.” The prohibition against double jeopardy means that you can’t be prosecuted for the same case twice. If you are tried for a crime and the jury acquits you, the prosecution cannot put you on trial for the same crime.
- The protection against self-incrimination. You’ve probably heard this referred to as “pleading the Fifth.” You cannot be compelled to incriminate yourself, which applies to a variety of circumstances. The right to avoid self-incrimination guarantees your right to remain silent when arrested and prohibits the prosecution from compelling you to testify in your own criminal case. It also prohibits the prosecution from compelling you to testify in another case (such as a co-defendant’s trial) if you could potentially incriminate yourself.
- The guarantee of due process of law. Your right to due process of law is very broad and can mean very different things in different contexts. Generally speaking, your right to due process of law refers to a sense of basic fairness in how your case is handled.
Your Fifth Amendment rights ensure that you will receive a fair and just trial if you are charged with a crime. If any of these rights are violated, it would compromise the entire proceeding. If the defendant did not have an attorney, there would be no one to guarantee that these rights have been upheld.
The Sixth Amendment
The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution is another vital source of protections for criminal defendants. The Sixth Amendment provides some of our most fundamental and protected rights:
- The right to a speedy trial. While “speedy” is subject to interpretation and will vary by jurisdiction, this right protects you intentional and malicious prosecutorial delay. The benefits are obvious if you are incarcerated pending trial. If you are out on bail, this right protects you from having charges hanging over your head for an unreasonable amount of time. An experienced criminal defense attorney will work to ensure that the prosecution does not create unnecessary delays in bringing your case to trial.
- The right to be represented by counsel. You aren’t obligated to have an attorney, but you have a constitutional right to an attorney if you want one. If you cannot afford a lawyer, a public defender must be provided to you. Furthermore, law enforcement and prosecutors cannot continue to question you until you have a lawyer present if you have requested one. This is arguably one of the most vital rights protected by the constitution since your attorney can speak on your behalf, protect you from self-incrimination, and in general, ensure that the prosecution respects your constitutional rights.
- The right to an impartial jury. Your right to an impartial jury allows you to participate in the jury selection process, a critical phase of your trial. Otherwise, the prosecution could pack the jury with people who are more inclined to convict you than not. That said, the jury selection process is somewhat technical and difficult for non-lawyers to navigate. A criminal defense attorney can help make sure your jury is as impartial as possible.
- The right to face your accusers. This means that you not only get to know who is accusing you but that you have the right to cross-examine them at trial. Effective cross-examination is extremely difficult for non-lawyers. Criminal defense attorneys know how to use cross-examination to your benefit in order to demonstrate weaknesses in the prosecution’s case.
- The right to know the nature of your charges and the evidence against you. Again, this is a vital right so that you can prepare your best defense. While the charges may be obvious, it isn’t always easy to find out what evidence they have against you. There are a number of tactics the prosecution may employ to hide weaknesses in your case. An experienced criminal defense attorney can make sure you know exactly what evidence you have and analyze it closely for inconsistencies and other issues.
These rights, along with those protected by the Fifth Amendment, form the backbone of our criminal justice system. If they aren't protected and upheld, even in cases where the defendant is guilty, it would undermine the legitimacy of our nation's legal system.
Contact Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorney Lauren Wimmer Today to Schedule a Free Case Evaluation
If you’ve been charged with a crime in Philadelphia, you need someone to make sure you receive a fair trial. Our legal system is adversarial in nature, and the prosecution is not on your side. They want to convict you and are not obligated to serve your interests. Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer Lauren Wimmer has the experience and legal knowledge to make sure your rights are protected. Call us at 215-712-1212 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation to discuss how we can help you.