Criminal defendants have constitutional rights during the course of a criminal case. The most significant, and likely most well-known, is that a criminal defendant is presumed innocent until the government proves a defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The burden of proof is exclusively with the government-a criminal defendant does not need to prove anything.
A criminal defendant has other rights as well. A criminal defendant has the right to remain silent. If a criminal defendant chooses to remain silent, the government cannot call the defendant as a witness.
A criminal defendant has the right to confront the government's witnesses. This means a defendant has the right to ask the government's witnesses questions. The goal of this questioning, also known as cross-examination, is to discredit the government's evidence. In addition, a criminal defendant has the right to call witnesses who may offer exculpatory information. If the witness does not want to testify, a criminal defendant has the right to compel the witness to testify through the use of a subpoena.
A criminal defendant has the right to a jury trial. In misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor cases in Minnesota, a criminal defendant has the right to a six-person jury. In felony cases, a criminal defendant has the right to a twelve-person jury. To find a defendant guilty of a charge, the jurors must unanimously agree that the defendant is guilty. A defendant can also choose to have his or her case decided by a judge. This is known as a court trial or bench trial.
A criminal defendant has the right to a speedy trial. Generally speaking, once a defendant has been charged with a crime, the defendant has a right to have a trial within sixty days of making a demand for a speedy trial.
A criminal defendant has the right to be represented by an attorney. If a defendant cannot afford an attorney, the court must appoint an attorney to represent the criminal defendant. A criminal defendant can also choose to represent himself or herself. However, the decision to proceed pro se is often not a wise one.
A criminal defendant also has the right to a pre-trial hearing to contest the admissibility of evidence to be used at trial. In Minnesota, this type of challenge is made at an Omnibus Hearing.
This is not an exhaustive list of all the constitutional rights a criminal defendant has during the course of a trial. Moreover, there are also many nuances to the rights discussed. If you have been arrested or charged with a crime, your best bet is to contact a lawyer right away. Grant Borgen of Bird, Jacobsen & Stevens, P.C. practices criminal law and is always available for a free consultation.