Friday, March 31, 2006

Constitutional Conundrum (4-8)

Okay kiddies. This week we're going to talk about the rights of the accused. Amendment IV of the United States Constitution states, "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." Interpreted for idiots, this means that law enforcement (from the guv'ment right on down to the local Barney Fifes) cannot perform any of the following actions without a warrant supported by probable cause (probable cause, just in case you were wondering, does not mean "just because your skin is brown and/or you are Muslim"):
  • enter your house and look for evidence that a crime has been committed
  • look through your e-mail and library card checkouts to see what you're reading and to whom you are talking
  • monitor your phone calls placed citizen to citizen: even abroad, you have all of the Constitutional rights of an American citizen. Your buddy may be monitored if he is not a citizen, but only his voice can be recorded or transcribed.
  • look through your car
  • do anything that the Patriot Act says they can do.
Amendment V of the US Constitution states that "No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be put twice in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation." For those who get all legal information from television, this means:
  • Nobody can be charged with a capital crime (big-time felonies) unless indicted or presented to a Grand Jury (unless you are a soldier - they can trample your rights all they want to because you signed your body and soul over to the government). Only soldiers can be held without due process - not citizens, even during time of war.
  • You can't be tried for the same crime twice, even if new evidence surfaces at a later date.
  • You cannot be forced to testify against yourself. If something you say will be held against you in court, you don't have to speak. You don't even have to justify it. If something you say may be interpreted as incriminating, even if, in context, it is not, you don't have to say it. It's not a cop out, it's a means to protect innocents from overzealous prosecutors
  • If the government confiscates or takes your belongings, including land, for itself, you have to be paid.
Amendment VI, VII, and VIII, in order, read thus:
  • VI - In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.
  • VII - In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
  • VIII - Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
Much of Amendments Seven and Eight are understood, but only about half of Amendment Six is generally understood; that is, people know that the accused in a criminal trial have the right to an impartial trial by jury; furthermore, that the accused has right to legal counsel. Recent Supreme Court rulings have reaffirmed the middle half: all accused criminals have the right to face their accusers in a court of law, no matter the circumstances. In cases of murder, the state, deprived of the resources of deceased citizens, stands as the accuser, so that dead folks don't have to be present.

Why discuss this now? What does this have to do with media and rhetoric? There is an interesting commingling of society, media, and rhetorical agency where these five amendments are concerned. More on this in my next entry.


Poll said...

hello !!

Very good blog !

C.Berg said...

Thank you!