After the Declaration of Independence, Congress drafted the Constitution. This document explained how the new government would be formed with three separate branches. It also included explanations of the duties of each branch, and how each branch was designed to keep the others from becoming too powerful, a system know as checks and balances. However, some people thought that even with this system of checks and balances, the Constitution still did not limit the power of the government enough, these people were known as Anti-Federalists. Others, known as Federalists, argued that the document was enough because any powers that were not explicitly spelled out in the Constitution were given to the states.
As a compromise, the two parties agreed to add a Bill of Rights to the Constitution, a list of amendments that would protect individual liberties. James Madison drafted this list of amendments, and then Congress voted to add the amendments to the Constitution. One of the reasons that the Bill of Rights is so remarkable is because the founding fathers would never imagined things such as an individual’s rights during a car search, but they were still able to draft a document that applies to situations hundreds of years later. While all of the amendments are still relevant today, several of them still influence criminal law, such as the fourth, fifth, sixth, and eighth amendment.
The fourth amendment is designed to protect people from unreasonable search and seizures of their property. This amendment was inspired by the way the English treated the Colonists because they often raided their houses and took their personal property with no justification. In order to prevent this from happening in the new country, the framers of the Constitution made sure to include this in the list of amendments. They made it so that in order for the police to conduct a search they had to obtain a warrant, or and order of the court, to enter a person’s house. This amendment is generally regarded to be very important because it protects a person’s individual rights from
the power of the government. However, one drawback to this amendment is that it can give suspects time to get rid of evidence while police are working to obtain a warrant.
The next amendment that relates directly to criminal law is the Fifth Amendment. This amendment is designed to ensure that everyone receives due process when they are accused of a crime, which entails several things. First, a person must be given notice that they are being accused of a crime, and they must then have the chance to have a hearing and defend themselves. This process prevents a person from being held in prison for a long duration of time without any charges against them. This amendment also protects a person from self-incrimination and gives them the right to remain silent. This is the amendment where the Miranda Rights that are read to a person when they are arrested come from. Lastly, this amendment protects citizens from double jeopardy, or being tried twice for the same crime.
Another amendment that relates to criminal law is the Sixth Amendment, and this also has several parts to it, just like the Fifth Amendment does. First, and perhaps most important, this amendment guarantees that those accused of a crime have a right to a jury trial. In addition to this, it also states that the defendants have a right to confront their accusers, along with having witnesses to support their defense. This amendment also states that defendants have a right to legal representation in a court of law, and that the trail must occur in the same state that the crime occurred in. All of the rights that are outlined in the Sixth Amendment pertain to the trial of the defendant, while the rights listed in the Fifth Amendment all pertain to things that occur before the trail.
The last amendment in the Bill of Rights that is about criminal law is the Eighth Amendment, which protects all citizens from cruel and unusual punishment. “Cruel and unusual” punishment has historically referred to punishments that cause the mutilation of a body, such as cutting off one’s hands or feet, or forced castration. However, it also implies that a punishment should fit the crime, meaning that a person should not be sentenced to an extreme length of time in jail for a petty crime. This amendment is slightly more dynamic than the rest of them, because the meaning of cruel and unusual has changed over time, particularly with the way that capital punishment has been administered. The electric chair and hanging were once considered acceptable, but are now considered barbaric with lethal injection now being one of the only acceptable methods to administer capital punishment.
One of the reasons that the Bill of Rights is such an important document is because it was written over 200 years ago, but is still relevant to modern law. For example, the fifth and sixth amendments still guide the basic procedures for all criminal trails, and all the rights guaranteed to citizens when the founding fathers wrote the Constitution are still guaranteed to citizens today. Another reason that the document is so successful is because it outlines specific rights that each citizen has, but is still open to a certain degree of interpretation for unforeseen circumstances. For example, the fourth amendment applies to searches of cars, something that would not have even been imagined when James Madison drafted the amendments. Also, the Supreme Court is also able to interpret these amendments as special cases arise that have no past precedent. The foresight of the founding fathers allows the Bill of Rights to still be relevant and applicable to everyday lives in the year 2015.