The Role of the Criminal Defense Attorney

Protection of Constitutional Rights

It should come as no surprise that given the United States Constitution, by the Sixth Amendment, forged the role of the criminal defense attorney that one of the primary functions of that role is to protect the Constitutional rights of those charged with criminal offenses. Individuals charged with criminal offenses may receive relief in the Courts if it can be shown that in the course of a criminal investigation, overzealous law enforcement officers violated their Constitutional rights. The primary rights that concern the criminal defense attorney are encompassed by the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the United States Constitution. The Fourth Amendment protects individuals from unlawful searches and seizures. This amendment requires a police officer have a search warrant, based on probable cause that criminal evidence will be found and signed by an impartial judge who is in agreement with that assessment, before conducting a search. It is not infrequent that a police officer will try to avoid this requirement if he feels the information he possesses does not rise to the level of probable cause and try to conduct a search anyway. The Fourth Amendment also protects against unlawful detention by Government authorities without the requisite showing of probable cause. The Fifth Amendment requires police officers properly advise an individual suspected of a crime in police custody of his Miranda warnings before conducting questioning designed to elicit an incriminating statement or confession. The Fifth Amendment clearly protects an individual from giving evidence against himself and gives that individual a right to remain silent in the face of a custodial interrogation. A person in police custody has an absolute right to have a lawyer present before being subjected to police interrogation. Often violations of these Constitutional rights provide the Government with evidence to charge an individual with a criminal act. The exclusionary rule provides that evidence obtained in violation of these Constitutional rights cannot be used as evidence against that individual at trial. The criminal defense attorney must raise these types of issues before the trial court by filing a timely motion to suppress the evidence unlawfully obtained.

It is also the role of the defense attorney to ensure that his client receives all the constitutional protections afforded him at trial. The attorney needs to continually remind the judge or jury passing judgment on his client the Government has the burden of proving his client guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The burden is solely on the Government. A person charged with a crime has a constitutional presumption of innocence and does not have to prove his innocence if the Government cannot prove his guilt. In a criminal case the Government must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, the highest standard of proof in the American justice system. If the Government cannot meet its burden and its level of proof does not rise to the level required by the Constitution, it is incumbent on the defense attorney to move the court to dismiss charges against his client.

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