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What Is Due Process and Why Is It Important?

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The United States Constitution affords Americans several important rights, from freedom of speech and religion to protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. The Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution states that people who are facing criminal charges are entitled to due process of law.

Due process is incredibly important and affords defendants certain rights during criminal justice proceedings. If a prosecutor violates any of these protections, the court may dismiss the charges against the defendant or overturn a conviction that has already occurred.

What Rights Are Included Under Due Process?

The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that due process includes all of the criminal procedural rights found in Bill of Rights, including the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments. As such, state governments must ensure defendants are afforded these rights during each and every criminal proceeding.

Due process rights include the following:

  • The right to a speedy and public trial
  • The right to legal counsel
  • The right to be tried by a jury of your peers
  • The right to an impartial jury
  • The right to remain silent and avoid self-incrimination
  • The right to protection against unreasonable searches and seizures
  • The right to confront and cross-examine any witnesses who are against the defendant
  • The right to a notice and explanation of all of the charges that are brought against a defendant

What Happens If Due Process Rights Are Violated?

Because due process is such a fundamental component of the American criminal justice system, the absence of any of these constitutional rights can have grave consequences for the state. For example, if a police officer conducts an illegal search and obtains evidence, the state would not be allowed to include that evidence in a trial against the defendant.

In many cases, a Washington court will dismiss charges against a defendant if it finds that his or her due process rights were violated. A court may also reverse a conviction and release a defendant from prison if there was an absence of any of his or her due process rights.

For example, actor Bill Cosby was found guilty of sexual assault and sentenced to prison in 2018. However, Cosby settled a civil lawsuit with the victim after the 2004 assault and had a deal with the district attorney that he would provide a deposition under the penalty of perjury in exchange for not being prosecuted.

In the deposition, Cosby did not invoke his Fifth Amendment rights and admitted to obtaining illegal substances to drug the victim and other potential sexual partners. This was very strong evidence, and the next district attorney chose to prosecute Cosby regardless of the previous deal and use these depositions against him in court.

Because Cosby was operating under the belief that he was not at risk of criminal punishment, his due process rights were violated during his criminal trial. Therefore, the court reversed his conviction.

A Washington Criminal Defense Attorney Can Protect Your Due Process Rights

All people facing criminal charges in the United States are entitled to due process, no matter the type of crime in question or the strength of potential evidence. However, state prosecutors and police officers sometimes violate these rights in order to obtain a conviction.

In these situations, you need a Washington criminal defense lawyer who can ensure that your due process rights are protected. Contact an attorney as soon as possible after your arrest to represent your case.

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