Rights of the Accused

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Rule of Law plays a critical role in protecting the rights of criminal defendants around the world. Generally, these rights are meant to protect individuals who lack the enormous resources available to the government.

In common law countries, many of the rights have been shaped through case law over several decades. As a result, the rules can be complex. This section is meant to be an overview of the most basic rights of defendants.

The rights of accused are protected in various ways by criminal procedure and evidence codes. Following is a list of some of the ways these rights are protected:

Following is a list of some of the rights of the accused. Because specific rights are the most important during specific phases of a criminal case, these rights are collected into subcategories. This is not to say that these rights are limited to these categories. Certain rights, such as the right to be free of torture, would apply during all phases of a criminal case.

Rights/ Protections from Police

A defendant's first contact with the criminal justice system typically occurs through police. Therefore, it is important that citizens are protected against unwarranted police intrusion. Most countries have developed sophisticated laws intended to protect against arbitrary police action.

Rights during Detention

In the United States persons accused of committing a crime have a series of rights, some of which are guaranteed by the United States Constitution and others as a result of case law or statute. Once the defendant is detained by the police he must be advised of the charges against him. The defendant must be advised that he has the right to remain silent and that anything he says can be used against him. The defendant must be advised that he has a right to a defense lawyer and that one will be appointed if he cannot afford to pay for the legal services. The defendant has the right to have someone informed of his arrest and to be told where he is being detained. The opportunity to advise someone of the arrest should be afforded as soon as possible. Any delay must be reasonable and related to the reason for the arrest, i.e., hinder recovery of property connected to the offense. The defendant has the right to be treated decently while he is in custody. He must be provided with food and drink, clothing as necessary as well as sleeping and washing facilities. The defendant cannot be "punished" or treated as guilty while he awaits trial. While detained, the defendant retains the right to court access and to a defense lawyer. That access may be subject to security restrictions typically used in a detention facility.

Rights at Trial

The trial is the centerpiece of the adversarial system as it is the first and only time the factfinder will hear individual witnesses live and in person. A trial in the inquisitorial system is somewhat different as the inquisitorial system has a preference for affidavits and other written forms of testimony in lieu of live witnesses. The aggregated rights below cover the time period between a court's first contact with a defendant and the court's final determination of guilt or innocence.


In common law and adversarial systems sentencing is a distinct phase separate from the trial phase. However, in some civil law systems there is little, if any distinction between sentencing and guilty determination. In either case, sentencing can be thought of as a distinct set of rights covering the kinds of sentences that a court may proscribe.

Rights in Prison

Even though convicted and serving a sentence to a term of incarceration, individuals still retain certain rights that are recognized in both domestic and international law.

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