What are Defendant's Rights?

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  • Written By: Christopher John
  • Edited By: Angela B.
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  • Last Modified Date: 04 February 2020
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Defendant’s rights are legal protections afforded to people accused of committing criminal offenses. These rights protect the accused — the defendant — throughout various stages of the criminal proceedings used to prosecute the person. A defendant's rights will vary based on the laws of the nation conducting the prosecution. Generally, a defendant’s rights include the right to remain silent, the right to legal counsel, the right to confront the accuser, the right to compulsory process, the right to a speedy and public trial, the right to be informed of the charges against him, and the right to a jury trial.

Numerous jurisdictions recognize a defendant’s rights as including the right to remain silent. This right prohibits the government from forcing a defendant to make statements that may make him seem guilty. In the U.S., the right to remain silent is contained in the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution.

The right of confrontation is also included in defendant's rights. This right allows a defendant to confront his accusers in court. This means a defendant may question any witnesses presenting testimony against him in court. A defense lawyer will usually cross-examine the witnesses on behalf of the defendant.


The right to compulsory process is also a part of a defendant’s rights in the U.S. This right enables the accused to use the powers of the court to compel the attendance of witnesses to testify. This means the court must issue a subpoena or a warrant on behalf of a defendant to get a witness to appear in court. A subpoena is simply a document that commands a person to appear in court at a designated time. If a person ignores the subpoena, the court can issue an arrest warrant to force a person’s attendance.

A defendant’s rights also comprise the right to have bail set while he awaits trial. Bail is the amount of money a defendant must post before the jail can release him from custody. The purpose of bail is to ensure that a defendant appears in court to stand trial. The U.S. Constitution and each U.S. state constitution prohibit courts from imposing excessive bail on a defendant. The court will usually base bail on the charges a defendant is facing.

The U.S. Constitution and state constitutions also guarantee a speedy and public trial as part of a defendant’s rights. The accused cannot languish in prison for years while awaiting trial. The right to a public trial functions as a prohibition against secret government trials. Ordinarily, any member of the public may attend a criminal trial in the U.S.

A defendant also cannot be subject to cruel and unusual punishment, according to a defendant's rights. The penalty of an offense must be proportionate to the crime committed. The U.S. Constitution also protects defendants from double jeopardy. This means the government cannot prosecute a defendant twice on the same charges.


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