Legal Awareness: Due Process in Criminal Cases

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Due process in criminal cases is crucial because the life, liberty and property of the accused are at stake. Confronted by the great machinery of the state, the accused is guaranteed certain rights to insure that justice is served.

It is a fundamental legal principle that no person shall be held to answer for a criminal offense without due process of law. “Due process” in criminal cases, simply means that the procedure established by law should be followed. If the procedure fully protects life, liberty and property of the citizens in the state, then it will be held to be due process. Legal awareness of due process in criminal cases is essential to all of us so we would know - in case we ever get entangled in a criminal dilemma - of what to expect and what we deserve.

 Legal Awareness: due process in criminal cases no. 1: Presumption of Innocence

The principal effect of this guarantee is that no person shall be convicted unless the prosecution has proved him guilty beyond reasonable doubt. The state, having the right to declare what acts are criminal, has a right to specify what proof shall constitute presumptive evidence of guilt, and then to put upon the defendant the burden of showing that such act/s are innocent and not committed with criminal intent.

Legal Awareness: due process in criminal cases no. 2: Right to be heard

The general right to be heard includes the following rights: a) right to be present at the trial; b) right to counsel; c) right to an impartial judge; d) right of confrontation (to challenge the accuser); and e) right to compulsory process to secure the attendance of witnesses (for the benefit of the accused).

Legal Awareness: due process in criminal cases no. 3: Right to counsel

This is in recognition of the fact that ordinary citizens have neither the professional skill nor legal experience to defend themselves, when brought to trial. It is the duty of the judge to inform the accused of the following: a) that he has a right to have counsel before being arraigned (pleading “guilty” or “not guilty”); b) to ask the accused whether he desires the aid of counsel; c) if the accused desires to obtain legal services, the court must give him reasonable time to do so; and d) if the accused desires counsel but is unable to afford one, the court must assign a “counsel de officio” (lawyer appointed by the court as a form of legal aid to the accused) to assist him.

Legal Awareness: due process in criminal cases no. 4: Right to be informed

The objectives of the written accusation are the following: a) to furnish the accused with such a description of the charge against him as will enable him to prepare his defense; b) to avail himself of his conviction or acquittal for protection against further prosecution (principle of Double Jeopardy); and c) to inform the court of the facts alleged so that it may decide whether the facts are sufficient in law to support a conviction.

Legal Awareness: due process in criminal cases no. 5: Right to speedy trial

The concept of speedy trial is necessarily relative, and determination of whether it has been violated must be based on the balancing of various factors. Factors to consider include the following: a) length of delay; b) reason for the delay; c) effort of the defendant to assert his right; and d) prejudice caused the defendant.

Legal Awareness: due process in criminal cases no. 6: Right to an impartial trial

An impartial trial would include the objectivity of the prosecution, the judge and jury. All parties, ideally, should not be influenced by their prejudices, and should remain detached from their preconceptions, whether favorable or not to the accused.

Legal Awareness: due process in criminal cases no. 7: Right to a public trial

The purpose of this guarantee is to serve as a safeguard against any attempt to employ persecutory rather than prosecutory methods against the accused. It is a public trial when attendance is open to all irrespective of relationship to defendants. However, when the evidence to be presented may be characterized as “offensive to decency or public morals,” the proceeding may be limited to friends, relatives and counsel.

Legal Awareness: due process in criminal cases no. 8: Right to meet witnesses face to face

The purpose of this is to afford the accused the opportunity to test the authenticity of the testimony of the witness by cross-examination, and to allow the judge and jury to observe the behavior of the witness.

Legal Awareness: due process in criminal cases no. 9: Right to compulsory process

This is for the benefit of the defendant to gather all evidence available that would prove his/her innocence. This is a safeguard against arbitrary or capricious exercise of judicial power.

Everybody should have this basic legal awareness of due process in the justice system.

1 comment

Rama lingam
Posted on Sep 12, 2010