Does the Defendant Have All the Rights?

Too often, we hear citizens complain, “The defendant has all the rights; the victim has none.”

This old adage could not be further from the truth. Yes, the defendant has rights: the right to a fair trial, the right to effective counsel, the right to remain silent, and the right to confront his accuser, among others. But, every citizen has these same rights when facing a criminal accusation.

I think what people usually wonder is why does a guilty person have these rights. Well, first, not all persons accused of criminal conduct are guilty. It is through the exercise of these rights that a jury can determine whether or not the accused is in fact guilty. But, when we start with the notion that the “guilty” should not have these rights, we are immediately discarding the accused’s rights. When we chip away the rights of the accused, we chip away the rights of all. Imagine for just a moment that you were innocent yet accused of criminal activity. Wouldn’t you want these rights?

Similarly, law enforcement officers often complain that they are not afforded the same rights as the criminals they arrest. This, again, could not be further from the truth. If you want the rights of a criminal, commit a crime or face criminal investigation or prosecution. If you haven’t heard them, officers usually complain during internal affairs investigations about their lack of rights. But, there is no right to employment. When an officer voluntarily seeks employment with a police agency, he is voluntarily subjecting himself to their rules and procedures and can face discipline for violations of those rules or procedures. Read more about What do police officers need to know about the 1st and 4th Amendment rights of public employees? in Val Van Brocklin’s discussion of police officers’ perceptions for their lack of rights.

Interestingly, those complaining they have no rights actually have all the same rights, they are just lucky enough to be in a position of not having to exercise them. They are not facing the power of the government attempting to take their life or liberty. They are not facing prison. They are not facing criminal conviction. But you can bet if they were, they would want all of the same rights.

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