ACTIVITY I. – SUMMARY OF CONCEPTS
In this section, state in your own words AND explain two topics from the assigned readings.
ACTIVITY II. – ADDITIONAL RESEARCH
Go to http://www.oyez.org
(Links to an external site.)
or another site of your choice. Find and explain in your own words a Supreme Court decision relevant to one of the issues discussed in Activity I.
ACTIVITY III. – YOUR OPINION
This section should include your views on the issues listed above.
ACTIVITY IV. – REFERENCE TO CURRENT EVENTS
In your own words, relate one of the issues listed above to a current issue in the press. This section should also contain a specific reference to an actual article or media broadcast including a date and title
The Rights of the Accused and the Convicted: Amendments 4–8
Amendment IV. 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.
UNREASONABLE SEARCHES AND SEIZURES
The Fourth Amendment is related to the Third in that both rest implicitly on the notion prominent in English common law that one’s home is one’s castle. The term privacy is nowhere mentioned in the Constitution, but the Fourth Amendment certainly points in the direction of this concept by its high regard for the integrity of persons and their property. As in the case of the Third Amendment, the Fourth was written with specific British abuses in mind. In attempts to detect tax fraud and violations of various embargoed goods, British agents often swept down on suspects with general warrants, good throughout the life of the monarch under whose authority they were issued, that gave practically unlimited authority to search and that stimulated great resentment.
Amendment V. No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger.
INDICTMENT BY GRAND JURY
The Fifth Amendment is usually described as protecting the rights of criminal defendants, but, since any of us can be accused of crimes, the amendment actually extends to all citizens. Although the Constitution does not specifically say so, it establishes an accusatorial rather than an inquisitorial system. Thus, the Fifth Amendment, like the one that follows, is based on the presumption that an individual is legally innocent until proven guilty, and that it is better for many guilty individuals to go free than for any innocent person to be falsely convicted. Perhaps even more broadly, these amendments rest on an understanding that individuals do not cease to be persons deserving of humane treatment even when judged guilty. In such cases, of course, it is sometimes easiest to lose sight of the notion of rights that undergirds the Constitution and other important founding documents.
Amendment VI. 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; which district shall have been previously ascertained by law
RIGHT TO A PETIT JURY
The Sixth Amendment continues the delineation of the rights of those accused of crimes, focusing again on the rights of such defendants at trial. By this amendment, such trials are to be both “speedy and public.” The former requirement is a matter of degree left open for future decisions, and the latter is designed to assure adequate publicity to deter untoward procedures and protect both the rights of those on trial and the integrity of the judicial process.
Amendment VII. In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury shall be otherwise reexamined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
PETIT JURIES IN COMMON LAW CASES
Whereas the amendments immediately preceding deal with federal criminal trials, the Seventh Amendment deals with federal civil trials, such as diversity of citizenship cases and the like. The Seventh Amendment provides the right to a jury trial in all civil cases exceeding 20 dollars, today such a petty sum that one wonders why it was included in the constitutional text at all. The amendment. whose guarantees have been extended to cover cases falling under federal statutes (of which there are now obviously many more than in 1787), further provides that the fact-finding function of a jury shall not be re-examined other than “according to the rules of the common law.” Knowing that jurors would not always be experts in the law, the framers continued to believe that the collective judgment of juries would be superior to the individual judgment of magistrates in ascertaining the facts of a case.
Amendment VIII. Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
THE EIGHTH AMENDMENT
Elsewhere in this book, we have noted that while some constitutional provisions have a high degree of specificity, others leave matters of degree to future generations to decide. The provisions in the Eighth Amendment seem to fit squarely within the latter category. The amendment respectively prohibits “excessive bail,” “excessive fines,” and “cruel and unusual punishments.” Terms like “excessive” almost beg for some guidance, and both courts and legislatures have tried to provide it. It is difficult to set precise rules here, since the nature of both bail and fines is necessarily set by the crime of which a defendant is accused and judgments about the defendant’s character. It would arguably be excessive to require a jaywalker to post any bail at all; on the other hand, courts might decide that a million dollars would not be enough to guarantee that a billionaire madman or wealthy drug dealer would appear at trial.
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