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Your Constitutional Rights: What You Need to Know.

By Savannah Owens

Most people don’t realize the full extent of their constitutional rights and the protection afforded by the Bill of Rights. KSST sat down with defense attorney Martin Braddy, to talk about basic constitutional rights and what you need to know. The first step is to know your basics. You can’t exercise your rights if you don’t know what they are.

“There’s law and then the reality of the law.” When facing situations we deal with social contracts as well as governmental contracts. Social contracts are the unspoken contracts within a community that allow us to work, and enjoy life peacefully. Social contracts promote accepted community ideas and how people should act during social interactions.  “The bill of rights created a lot of different rights. Essentially the concept of it was pretty simple, which is that we have a social contract, with the people in our society, our group, our community. We owe each other duties, and the way that we act and react. Well, the bill of rights…essentially says…that is between people but [not the government].” The bill of rights protects the people from the government. “Free speech is a prime example of that. The social contract says there are certain acceptable ways of talking to people, certain acceptable ideas and thoughts…[which] changes over time.”  The First Amendment says that the government does not get to dictate what speech is acceptable or unacceptable.  

Governmental contracts include the promise for the Government to protect it’s citizens and their property. To help the people be further protected with the fourth Amendment (the search and seizure act), the Supreme Court created an exclusionary rule. The exclusionary rule prevents evidence obtained without a warrant, or an exception to the warrant requirement, from being used in court. 

Braddy explained that officers ask questions in a way that asks for consent, because if you give consent they can search without a warrant. There is also, an automobile exception, which means if an officer has probable cause they can search your vehicle without a warrant. But they cannot search your car simply because you said no to consent. The Supreme Court recently held that officers cannot search a phone without a warrant.

Now when it comes to amendment eight which includes protection from unreasonable bail, people have the right to be released pending trial on reasonable bail. “Hopkins is wonderful. A Justice of the Peace goes every day even on holidays, to arrange bail.” Bail is set to be the amount of money owed to make sure you will come back to answer for your charge in court. Reasonable bonds, depend on the person, judge, and the crime. The pretrial bail system is currently being re-evaluated as it tends to benefit the upper classes and is a detriment to the lower classes. One alternative would be a criteria based bond system, which would be a check-list for people who cannot pay. 

Important things to remember is that you have a right to not answer questions-especially if you are in custody. If you are in custody nothing you say can be held against you unless you understand and have been read your Miranda Rights and waive them.  In Texas you must be recorded waving your rights or the officers must get it in writing. If you are being questioned by law enforcement,  you have three options: You can remain silent, You can request a lawyer, or You can waive your rights and answer questions. Braddy stressed the point that the accused is the only person who can invoke their right to remain silent or speak with a lawyer. Then the law enforcement must stop questioning. However, if that person speaks to law enforcement at any time after, then they have dismissed their right to remain silent and the questioning may resume. “Even if you didn’t commit a crime, many times it is not in the client’s best interest to cooperate.” However you have a right to a lawyer to help you make that decision and should always seek legal advice.

Braddy explained that in most situations people speak and give more information than the officers initially have.  Some policemen in an effort to do their job to capture the criminals, may phrase statements to entice people to confess to the crime. However, the best way to make sure you are innocent is to not commit a crime in the first place. It is important to think, to “step out of the normal routine” and spend “five minutes thinking before making a decision…Don’t be quick to say things or be afraid to think, and [question society.]”

Furthermore, make sure you know your rights. “Everyone should read and understand [their] rights.” Braddy suggested two organizations to look into if you are interested in learning more information: the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyer Association (TCDLA), and The Texas District and County Attorney Association (TDCAA). The main difference between the two is that the TCDLA is a privately funded organization, while the TDCAA is publically funded, but both are what Braddy would suggest to be more reputable than other sources.

If you’re ever wondering what to do in a situation, seek legal advice, to make informed decisions. Braddy compared speaking with a lawyer for legal advice as you would speak with a doctor for medical advice. “You wouldn’t diagnose yourself with diabetes and start giving yourself diabetes medication without talking to a doctor first, it’s the same with legal advice.” Many times people try to decide what they need to do without the help of someone who knows the subject.

Author: Savannah Everett

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