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The most important right for a criminal case which is covered in the constitutional amendments that we covered the class – the fourth, fifth, sixth, and eighth – is definitely the fifth amendment. Known for its infamous protection against self-incrimination in the form of pleading the fifth, this amendment also provides protection against many other issues that could arise in a case. While the other amendments are also crucial to providing the type of justice that we are used to in the United States, the fifth amendment explicitly states a defendant’s right to due process. This provides us the due process model that we see in our courtrooms today, which focuses its emphasis on the rights of the individual to be protected from the government and says that the state must prove a person’s guilt only within the confines of a system that is designed to protect their liberties that are covered in the Bill of Rights. In other words, without due process, the other rights that we are provided through the constitution would no longer be guaranteed to us for we would be using the crime control model, which focuses on the rights of society over those of the individual and states that the benefits of a lower crime rate outweighs the potential issues of personal rights.
Likewise, while due process is the most important part of the fifth amendment, it also provides for many other important benefits, such as the right to remain silent and the right to not be tried twice for the same crime. This latter right is especially important because it protects the defendant’s right to be able to continue to live their lives after they have been found innocent of a crime. Without this provision, they could be rounded up by the prosecutor every few years to try the case again when this would not be fair. The prosecution must accept the results of the trial – unless it is a hung jury, of course – and can’t keep trying to find the ‘perfect jury’ that will find the defendant guilty.
The criminal justice system, for the most part, does a good job of protecting these rights of the defendant as due process, for example, is so deeply woven into our criminal justice system that one of the three main components serves basically as a synonym: maintaining justice. This would be impossible without due process and because this is so important for the system, it is protected very effectively. The right to no double jeopardy is also well-covered except in a few notable cases. The first is that a case can be retried if there is a hung jury. This seems unfair to the defendant since if one person does not believe that they are guilty, then this seems like it would fall into the category of ‘shadow of a doubt’. If one person doesn’t believe that the prosecution doesn’t have a strong enough case, then it seems likely that they don’t but nothing is set up to protect the defendant in this case. It seems as though the criminal justice system could be reworked so that in this case, something besides a mistrial occurs although I am sure that this would just stir up more problems than it solves. Similarly, a person can be tried for a different conviction based on the same act which seems to be drawing a thin line but seems to be an appropriate exception to the amendment so I have no problems with this itself, it just seems worth noting. The main issue with this amendment, as with all of them, is not enough people understand them and are therefore not prepared to protect themselves at trial as they could if they were trained in the Constitution.
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