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Criminal Procedure

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In the area of criminal law, the US Constitution reigns supreme, as all levels of the legislature cannot pass laws that violate the Constitution. The Constitution guarantees fundamental rights and freedoms. From the point of view of US criminal law, the most important of these is the presumption of innocence of the accused. The defendant does not have to prove his innocence. The judiciary is obliged to prove his guilt.

 The Fifth, Sixth and Eighth Amendments to the Constitution are particularly important in shaping the framework of the criminal process. The Fifth Amendment protects defendants from the danger of double punishment – that is, a defendant cannot be tried for the same offense more than once in the same court. The Sixth Amendment guarantees defendants “a speedy and public hearing by an impartial jury from the state and county in which the crime was committed.” It also gives defendants the right to be present during the testimony of the witnesses against them, to cross-examine them, and to be assisted by counsel. The Eighth Amendment eliminates “excessive bail” for release from custody and prohibits “cruel and unusual punishment”.

 There is no clear distinction between federal and state crimes. It is considered that criminal acts cannot be sorted into these two categories. When a crime violates both federal and state criminal law, prosecution by both authorities is possible. The point is that the constitutional mechanism that protects the defendant from being prosecuted again for the same offence fails because the prosecutions are conducted by courts of different jurisdictions.

 More than 90% of convictions resulted from a guilty plea by the defendant. The defendant simply accepted the prosecutor’s offer to drop certain charges in exchange for the defendant’s guilty plea to one or more of the charges.

 The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees defendants the right to a jury trial. The defendant can choose a trial without a jury in front of a single judge or plead guilty. Normally, defendants have a better chance of being acquitted by a jury. If the jury cannot reach a unanimous decision, this is announced and the prosecution must decide whether to retry the defendant. The number of retrials is not limited.

 A suspended sentence is the most common sentence. In fact, the defendant avoids going to prison as long as he or she does not cause problems and complies with the rules set out by the probation department. The judge determines the length of the suspended sentence. The judge may also impose special conditions such as taking part in a drug treatment program, keeping a job or continue school education.

 The defendant may be sentenced to confiscation of property. The defendant must usually part with their property used in the commission of the offense and/or the proceeds of their criminal activity. A prisoner may be eligible for early release after serving one third of their sentence.