Our constitution provides every person certain basic rights to protect themselves from the power of the government. They are so important, but do you know what they are? Do you know how to use them properly?
This is a good overview of the rights that apply to anyone accused of a crime in Maryland. We will explain each right, and give you some good advice on how best to assert it if you are charged with a crime.
You should know this information before any contact with police officers if you suspect you may be charged with a crime and need a criminal lawyer.
We provide a free consultation to anyone charged with a crime. You should take advantage of that free consultation immediately if you are charged with a crime. Having a criminal defense attorney is so important to successfully getting through the criminal process that the United States Constitution makes it mandatory for the government to provide you one if you cannot afford one yourself.
You have the right to remain silent
This applies if you are stopped by the police, arrested, and it even applies at trial. You cannot be forced to answer questions or testify. Your silence cannot be used against you. Nobody is allowed to presume you are guilty just because you remain silent. This is one of the most valuable rights that people throw away routinely when they are arrested. They think the police will change their mind if they talk, or they think they can tell a lie, or a half truth, to get out of a situation. Unlike television, this rarely works. Remember that the police are working for the State, not for you. They are not your friend, and they will use anything you say against you. The best thing you can do is remain silent until you have consulted an attorney, who can advise you on what you should say – if anything.
You have the right to an attorney
You have the right to an attorney at trial, and during all proceedings leading up to trial. Criminal law is one area you should never handle yourself. The right to an attorney is so important it is guaranteed to you by the United States Constitution. The government will have to provide a lawyer for you if you cannot afford one. This should tell you how important it is that you have a lawyer if charged with a crime. Get one as soon as possible in the process.
You are innocent until proven guilty
The state must prove your guilt. You do not have to prove your innocence. You are always presumed innocent until proven guilty at trial, or until you plea guilty in court. The state also has a high burden to meet in proving your guilt. They must do so beyond a reasonable doubt.
You have the right to a trial by jury
If the charges against you carry more than a statutory maximum of 90 days, you have the right to a jury trial. Once a jury trial is “prayed”, a jury of 12 will have to unanimously agree on your guilty or innocence. This means the case against you must make sense to 12 ordinary citizens who got called for jury duty the day of your trial. You can also choose to have your guilt or innocence decided by a Judge alone, without a jury. Sometimes that may be smart, but generally a jury is better for the defense. Your lawyer can help decide that based on the circumstances of the crime you have been charged with and the merits of any legal arguments.
You have the right to challenge the state’s evidence against you
You have the right to a trial, and to challenge any evidence the state puts forward against you. This includes challenging the manner in which evidence was gathered. The police must gather evidence legally. There is a lot of case law out there on what police can and cannot do when gathering evidence. You have the right to personally confront witnesses and question them on the witness stand. Of course, you should do this through an attorney.
You have the right to present evidence on your behalf
Although you do not have to testify or present evidence at trial, you do have the right. You may even compel witnesses to be there for your defense by subpoena. The court will force them to appear and answer questions asked by your lawyer. Additionally, the prosecutor is always forced to give your attorney evidence that may tend to show you did not commit the crime. This is called exculpatory evidence and you can get a new trial if they fail to turn it over to your attorney and you are convicted.
You have the right to an appeal
You have several post-trial rights, including a right to an appeal. This can be different depending on if your case is in District or Circuit court. An appeal can involve going to a higher court, or even putting together a panel of Judges from the same court who are different than the one who presided at your trial. You can have legal errors reviewed. You can ask for certain evidence to be thrown out. You can even ask for your sentence to be reduced. There are a lot of things which can be challenged. Your attorney can advise you what to appeal based on the current case law.
To re-emphasize one point in this article – you have the right to an attorney. Criminal law is serious business and nobody should try to handle it without an attorney. We provide free consultations to anyone accused of a crime, or anyone who wants a consultation on behalf of someone accused of a crime.