Most schoolchildren learn about the U.S. Constitution and about the first ten Amendments to the Constitution, collectively known as the “Bill of Rights,” at some point – and then promptly forget all about them. If you ever find yourself suspected of, or accused of, a crime though, the rights, privileges, and prohibitions found in the Bill of Rights will become very important to you once again. With that in mind, a Tennessee criminal defense attorney explains the Bill of Rights and summarizes what you need to know about each amendment found therein.
History of the Bill of Rights
It always helps to put something historical in context. Although entire books have been written about the way in which the Bill of Rights came to be, the abbreviated version starts with the creation of the original Constitution. Several of the states were unhappy because they felt that the Constitution lacked sufficient protection for individual liberties and that additional limits on the power of the federal government were needed. James Madison, then a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, went through the existing Constitution and made 17 changes which were presented as Amendments. Ten of those were ultimately passed by both the House and Senate and ratified by all the states. Those first ten Amendments became known as the Bill of Rights.
What Rights Are Granted to You in the Bill of Rights?
Each Amendment in the Bill of Rights stands for an important right, privilege, and/or prohibition that could apply to you at some point during your life. The following is a simplified explanation for each of those Amendments:
- Amendment I — provides for freedom of religion, speech, the press as well as the right to assemble and to complain to the government.
- Amendment II – provides for the right to own firearms.
- Amendment III – prevents the government from forcing private citizens to house soldiers.
- Amendment IV – prevents unreasonable searches and seizures and requires law enforcement officers to obtain a warrant, based on probable cause, before conducting a search and seizure.
- Amendment V – requires a grand jury before you can be tried for a serious crime (in federal court), prevents you from being tried twice for the same crime, prevents you from having to testify against yourself, prevents the government from taking your life, liberty, or property without due process, and if the government takes your property for public use you must be fairly compensated for it.
- Amendment VI – provides for a speedy and public trial in a criminal prosecution, the right to have the issue of guilt decided by an impartial jury, and gives you the right to an attorney. It also requires you to be informed of the charges against you and gives you the right to confront and cross-examine any witnesses against you.
- Amendment VII – gives you the right to a jury trial for civil cases in federal court but only of the amount being argued over exceeds a specific amount. At the time the Amendment was written, the amount was $20. Today, the amount is $75,000. It also prohibits the existence of courts other than those established by the government.
- Amendment VIII – prevents the government from imposing excessively high bail or fines and protects against cruel and unusual punishment.
- Amendment IX – stands for the idea that just because a specific right is mentioned in the Constitution, that does not mean that others which are not mentioned do not still exist.
- Amendment X – stands for the idea that any power which has not specifically been given to the federal government nor specifically prohibited to the states, in the Constitution belongs to the states and/or the people.
Contact a Tennessee Criminal Defense Attorney
If you have questions about your Constitutional rights found in the Bill of Rights and/or you have been accused of a criminal offense in the State of Tennessee, it is in your best interest to consult with an experienced Tennessee criminal defense attorney at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby as soon as possible to ensure that those rights are protected. Contact the team today by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your appointment.