Arguably, the most important constitutional amendments affecting criminal law are the 4th, 5th and 6th amendments. They guarantee your right to be free of unreasonable searches, not be compelled to testify against your interests and your right to be represented by an attorney. If the government (police) violate your rights as guaranteed by these amendments, your attorney can challenge the government’s conduct through a suppression hearing.
The fourth amendment grants you freedom of unreasonable search and seizure of you and your property. If the police suspect criminal activity and ask to search you, your car, home, luggage etc. you are not required to give consent. If you do not give consent, the police must request a warrant from a neutral magistrate to get the authority to conduct a search. There are some exceptions in automobile cases and those requiring a time-sensitive search frequently referred to as exigent circumstances. However, if you consent to the search, you forfeit your right to challenge the appropriateness of the search. I instruct my clients not to give consent and require the police to petition a magistrate for a search warrant. Even if the police obtain a search warrant, you can still challenge the lawfulness of the warrant in front of a common pleas judge.
The fifth amendment states you cannot be compelled to give evidence against yourself. Of course, in a criminal trial, the prosecutor cannot call the defendant to the witness stand to testify. Likewise, if a law enforcement official calls you and requests you to come to the police station or stops by your house to request you answer some questions, you can decline. You should not agree to an interview with the police unless you have consulted with a criminal defense attorney.
The sixth amendment protects your right to be represented by an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, the public defender’s office will represent you for free in any case where a jail sentence is a possible outcome. If you have retained and/or hired an attorney and you tell the police you are represented, they cannot ask you questions without your attorney’s permission. Of course, you can waive that right but that usually is not a wise decision. The attorney is your advocate throughout the process until the case is concluded. Never attempt to represent yourself in a criminal matter.
If you think you are a suspect in a criminal investigation or have already been charged or arrested, please consult with a criminal defense attorney immediately. There are five criminal defense attorneys at RGS&G with years of experience handling thousands of cases and trying hundreds of jury and judge trials. Please call one of our attorneys with any questions. We offer free in-office consultations and can be reached at 215-822-7575 or email me at [email protected]