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Defendant’s Rights

A defendant has numerous rights during a trial. If the defendant is deprived of any of his rights, he may be entitled to a reversal of his conviction. Generally, the defendant’s rights include the right to: compulsory process, confrontation, speedy trial, effective assistance of counsel, to be present, to remain silent, to a fair and impartial jury, and to be afforded due process. Many of the defendant’s rights are embodied in the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution, as well as in state constitutions.

Right to Confrontation and the Compulsory Process

The defendant has a right to confront adverse witnesses and to cross-examine witnesses. The defendant also has the right to confront accusers at trial. However, the right to present witnesses is not absolute, and a court may refuse to allow a defense witness to testify if the defendant willfully failed to identify the witness in a pretrial discovery request.

The defendant also has a right to compulsory process. This means that the defendant has the right to obtain favorable witnesses to testify on his behalf.

Right to a Speedy Trial

The right to a speedy trial means that the defendant must be tried within a certain amount of time. The Sixth Amendment does not specify exact time limits. The court is required to determine this issue on a case-by-case basis. Each state has its own laws with respect to the time limitations that are proper. In determining whether defendant’s right to a speedy trial has been violated courts take into consideration:

  • the length of the delay,
  • the reason for the delay and
  • whether the delay resulted in prejudice to the defendant.

Right to Effective Assistance of Counsel

A defendant not only has a right to counsel at certain points in the adversary process, but also has the right to effective assistance of counsel. If defense counsel fails to provide effective assistance, reversal of a verdict against the defendant will be required. Ineffective assistance does not include tactical decisions made during the trial process. A deficient performance by counsel and the fact that but for the deficient performance, the results of the trial would have been different are factors in a finding of ineffective assistance of counsel. If the defendant challenges his counsel’s performance on appeal, he has the burden of proof to show that his counsel was ineffective.

Right to be Present at Trial and Remain Silent

The defendant has a right to be present during trial. However, the defendant is not required to testify or even present a defense. The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that the defendant cannot be compelled to testify as a witness during his trial on criminal charges. The defendant does not shoulder the burden of proof during a criminal trial. The prosecution is required to prove that the defendant committed an offense beyond a reasonable doubt.

Right to Fair and Impartial Jury

The defendant has a right to a jury trial if the offense is serious. If the defendant faces the possibility of imprisonment for more than six months, he is entitled to a jury trial. However, juveniles do not have a right to a jury trial. Only the defendant can choose whether to have a bench or jury trial. Once the defendant chooses to have a jury trial, he is entitled to an impartial jury. The members of the jury panel should not be biased or prejudiced.

Right to Due Process

The defendant is entitled to due process under the law. He is entitled to receive notice of the charge against him and an opportunity to respond. The right to notice of the accusation against the defendant is a fundamental part of procedural due process and states are required to observe it.