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    Philadelphia Criminal Cases: What are Your Constitutional Rights?

    Under the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution, the government (via police officers and the local District Attorney’s Office) is required to uphold certain legal rights in criminal cases.

    bill of rights criminal cases philadelphiaIt is important to note that the following constitutional rights are provided under the United States Constitution, as opposed to the Pennsylvania Constitution.

    There are two spheres of constitutional rights, federal and state. In a criminal case in Philadelphia, both the federal constitution and the state (Pennsylvania) constitution apply. For the most part, federal and state constitutional rights overlap. However, federal constitutional law creates bare minimum protections that all states must follow. States are free to enact broader constitutional protections.

    In this article, we will discuss the primary constitutional rights (federal) that are usually involved in a criminal case in Philadelphia. The correlating Pennsylvania Constitution sections are also noted, where applicable.


    4th Amendment – Search & Seizure

    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. (Also see Pennsylvania Constitution, Article 1, Section 8. Security from Searches and Seizures)

    The 4th Amendment lays out the right of all citizens of Philadelphia to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. In general, this means that in order to seize a person or otherwise conduct a brief search, police officers must, at a bare minimum, have reasonable suspicion that a crime is occurring or has occurred.

    Read more about 4th Amendment guarantees in Philadelphia criminal cases.

    Example: A Philadelphia resident is walking down the street minding his own business. A police officer approaches, places him in handcuffs for no reason and searches his bag. The officer finds a loaded weapon and the resident is charged with illegal possession of a firearm. Here, because there was no reason for the stop and arrest, the resident may try to get his criminal case dismissed by filing a Motion to Suppress to Gun.

    It’s important to note that 4th Amendment search and seizure law is very complex and is always changing. This is especially true as technology changes. With the dawn of cell phones, GPS tracking systems, etc., search and seizure rights are continually being defined and oftentimes restricted.

    Get more info about 4th Amendment search and seizure rights:

    PA Supreme Court Makes Sweeping Changes to Search-Seizure Law in PA Drug-Gun Cases May 26, 2014 [Last month, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court adopted the federal standard for automobile searches, effectively changing well-established criminal law in Pennsylvania.]

    Vehicle Stop & Seizure in Criminal Drugs/Guns Cases in Pennsylvania April 14, 2014 [A look at a successful Motion to Suppress in a drug/gun case in PA]

    5th Amendment – Double Jeopardy; Freedom from Self-Incrimination

    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 offence to be twice put 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. (emphasis added) (Also see Pennsylvania Constitution, Article 1, Section 9. Rights of Accused in Criminal Prosecutions; Section 10. Initiation of Criminal Proceedings; Twice in Jeopardy; Eminent Domain)


    The 5th Amendment prohibits individuals from having to testify against themselves in a criminal proceeding. State and federal courts construe this amendment to mean that you have a right to remain silent when you’ve been arrested and your silence cannot be used against you in a criminal prosecution. As a result of a 1966 U.S. Supreme Court case (Miranda v. Arizona), police officers are required to inform arrestees of their 5th Amendment rights. Since then, other major court decisions have established tests for when Miranda warnings have to be given, i.e., when there is a custodial interrogation.

    Related: Constitutional Rights in Philadelphia Criminal Drug & Gun Cases – The 5th Amendment (Part 2)

    Double Jeopardy Rights

    police carThe 5th Amendment prevents an individual who is charged with a crime from being tried for the same offense. However, this generally applies to specific courts. For example, someone who is tried and acquitted on an armed robbery charge in Philadelphia (state) court could not be tried again in state court, but could face trial for the same conduct in federal court, on federal charges.

    6th Amendment – Jury Trial and Assistance of Counsel

    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 defence. (Also see Pennsylvania Constitution, Article 1, Section 6. Trial by Jury)

    The 6th Amendment gives criminal defendants the right to a jury trial, the right to confront any witnesses, and the right to counsel. The right to counsel even extends to appeals or Post Conviction Relief Act petitions.

    8th Amendment – Reasonable Bail, Sentences & Fines

    Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted. (Also see Pennsylvania Constitution, Article 1, Section 13. Bail, Fines and Punishments)

    Excessive bail and punishments are not allowed under the 8th Amendment. In the initial stages of a Philadelphia criminal case, bail is particularly important, especially for family members who are concerned about getting their loved ones out of jail. Bail factors, sentences and fines are all established under Pennsylvania statutes. Oftentimes, a criminal lawyer will be able to reduce bail, and later on in the case can reduce criminal exposure. More: Philadelphia Criminal Cases – Factors for Reducing Bail


    Disclaimer: This website does not create any attorney-client relationship or provide legal advice. Our lawyers provide legal advice only after accepting a case. It is imperative that any action taken is done on advice of counsel. Read full disclaimer below.


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