If you have been accused of a crime, it can be hard to tell exactly how far your rights extend and when they are being violated. That’s because more people are not trained lawyers, and very few people without legal training encounter law enforcement on a consistent enough basis to truly understand what they should be able to expect and how to protect themselves. By going into any interaction with law enforcement with a clear understanding of a few basic concepts, though, you can navigate the situation more carefully. Understanding due process also means understanding how and when you can access legal advice, and when you should ask for it.
What due process means
Due process refers to the rights of all people to the same treatment under the law. On its own, it does not plainly guarantee any certain rights, but it preserves the idea that the court should take the same steps for all cases, that all defendants should have the same procedure for determining guilt or innocence, and that this consistent treatment is a right that protects every individual in the system.
In practice, due process must be protected to be enjoyed, just like many other democratic principles and civil rights. That means you need to know how to tell if that process is being short-cut in a variety of ways, and if you do not know, then you need legal counsel to tell you if it has happened and to fight for your rights as needed.
The intricacies of due process in the Constitution
Understanding everything that goes into determining due process means understanding several complex constitutional amendments. The 5th and 14th Amendments are the ones that clearly mention the right to due process, with the 5th focused on the federal government and the 14th on state and local governments. The following list is provided by UShistory.org to help people understand how key constitutional amendments in the original Bill of Rights play into the concept of due process as it is exercised today.
- 4th Amendment, governing searches and seizures
- 5th Amendment, governing the right not to be forced to incriminate oneself
- 6th Amendment, the right to counsel
- 8th Amendment, preventing cruel and unusual punishment
If you are arrested
The most important right you can exercise is the right to counsel when you encounter law enforcement. The other rights guaranteed by the Constitution tend to depend on other actions, but by requesting an attorney and listening to experienced legal advice, you have the opportunity to exercise those rights in ways that help you protect yourself.