When the United States declared its independence from the British Empire during the second part of the eighteenth century, it was necessary to design a set of fundamental laws that allowed American society to grow and develop sustainably towards the future. Going beyond the laws and norms established by the government in order to guarantee the sustainability of civil society (in the context of the social contract), there were also a set of rights that were deemed universal and unalienable for all Americans. These rights were set forth in the United States Constitution. Later on, it became necessary to make some modifications so as to protect better the rights and liberties of the American people. The set of made modifications were compiled in the Bill of Rights, the 4th, 5th, and 6th amendments. These three amendments have had significant influence on the way in which law is administered in the United States (as it applies to both adults and juvenile court proceedings). The constitutional safeguards that the amendments set forth have provided day-to-day efficient operations of both adult and juvenile courts.
First, upon analyzing the 4th amendment, it is important to consider that this amendment ensures that all people will be protected against illegal searches and seizures. Furthermore, the amendment establishes that any warrant issued for a search and/or seizure will have to stipulate detailed information regarding the individuals, places, and things (that will be either searched and/or seized). The amendment’s actual text states following:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized (The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, 2013).
The amendment has significant implications on both adult and juvenile court proceedings, because it guarantees that neither adults nor juveniles may be charged unless searches and seizures have been properly developed. For example, if a dorm room is illegally searched, and a student is found to possess marijuana, then under the 4th amendment’s provisions, this marijuana could not be used in a legal proceeding (since it was illegally seized). This makes it clear that the 4th amendment does allow adults and juveniles to get around the law but only in situations in which officers of the law make mistakes in terms of searching
and seizing property (Legal Information Institute, 2013). Ultimately, the 4 th amendment sanctions the exclusionary rule, which holds that any evidence that results from illegal searches and/or seizures is inadmissible in a court of law and cannot be used for criminal prosecution purposes.
Second, upon discussing the 5th amendment, it is important to note that it guarantees that capital or infamous crimes may only be indicted by a Grand Jury. This amendment, however, goes beyond this initial provision, as it also establishes that no person can be convicted for the same crime twice, no person can incriminate him/herself, no person can be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process, and no (private) property may be seized without the owner receiving just compensation. The amendment’s actual text states following:
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury… nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation (The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, 2013).
Upon reading the text of the 5th amendment, it becomes clear that it sets forth various constitutional safeguards for both adult and juvenile court proceedings. First of all, it ensures that Miranda Warnings are given to all suspects. In other words, the 5th amendment ensures that no individual may be intimidated, manipulated, or coerced into self-incrimination (as all of his/her rights are set forth when they are seized by officers of the law). As well, the amendment ensures the people’s right to counsel (by making sure that all suspects are made aware of their right to counsel, and they get some sort of legal counsel). Third, the amendment provisions for double jeopardy, which means that a person may not be tried and/or convicted for the same crime twice. In other words, if a person is tried for murder in the first degree for having allegedly killed a person, that person may not be tried a second time for that same crime (Legal Information Institute, 2013). Therefore, if the suspect is tried and found to be innocent, he/she may not be tried once again for that same crime. All things considered, this amendment is most important for both adult and juvenile courts, especially because it makes sure that individuals are informed as to what their rights are (as they relate to court proceedings). Juveniles, for example, have much to benefit, since they seldom have any knowledge about their rights in criminal proceedings.
Finally, the 6th amendment provisions state that all individuals have the right to a public, speedy trial (by a jury that is comprised of impartial peers). Furthermore, this amendment ensures that any defendant has the right to confront his/her accuser (as well as the witnesses set forth), and that they have access to legal counsel. Here again, it should be noted adult and juvenile court proceedings stand to benefit from this amendment, especially because it guarantees that the legal establishment will be swift, efficient, and effective in the administration of the law. Let us consider the actual text of the amendment:
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed… to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense (The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, 2013).
The 6th amendment sets forth a series of constitutional safeguards that ultimately contribute to the American legal system being more swift, effective, and efficient. When a defendant is tried for a crime, during the time in which the trial takes place, it is likely that the defendant will be imprisoned (unless he/she is granted bail). This makes it clear that it is necessary to guarantee that a speedy trial will ensue, especially if by the end the defendant is found to be not guilty (Legal Information Institute, 2013). The law is meant to be objective, transparent, effective, and efficient. The 6th amendment makes sure that the American legal system holds true on that premise. Of course,
no legal system is perfect, but having considered the 4th, 5 th, and 6th amendments, it is clear that they have significantly contributed to making the country’s legal system better.
- Legal Information Institute. (2013). Fourth amendment. Retrieved from http://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/fourth_amendment
- Legal Information Institute. (2013). Fifth amendment. Retrieved from http://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/fourth_amendment
- egal Information Institute. (2013). Sixth amendment. Retrieved from http://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/fourth_amendment
- The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. (2013). Bill of Rights. Retrieved from http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/bill_of_rights_transcript.html