Navigating the complexities of the justice system can be confusing and intimidating. However, being aware of what a defendant faces and what to do if you find yourself designated as one can reduce some of the anxiety and uncertainty you’re facing. 

Whether you are a defendant in a criminal case or seeking to familiarize yourself with the process to help a loved one, understanding the relevant legal rights will be incredibly helpful. 

When Do You Become a Defendant in a Criminal Case?

You become a defendant in a criminal case at the point when formal charges are lodged against you – for example, if you’re charged with drug possession. This could occur immediately following an interaction with law enforcement where you’re accused of breaking the law. However, it could also happen after an extended investigation where sufficient evidence against you has been gathered and presented to the court so an arrest warrant can be issued. 

A defendant is distinct from a suspect; the latter being someone that law enforcement considers possibly involved in a crime and who may be under investigation. Unlike a defendant, for whom formal charges are filed against, a suspect has not been formally accused of wrongful conduct but is merely under scrutiny by authorities.

In the United States, individuals charged with a crime are afforded several key rights designed to ensure fairness throughout the judicial process. 

Defendants Are Innocent Until Proven Guilty

One of the fundamental principles of our criminal justice system is that a defendant is considered innocent until proven guilty. This means that the prosecution must establish your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. You don’t need to prove your innocence; the prosecution must prove your guilt. 

Defendants Have the Right to a Fair Trial 

The right to have a fair trial ensures that you will be tried by an impartial jury of your peers within a reasonable time frame. This right also assures that you’ll be able to try your case in public. Under most circumstances, courtrooms are open to the public, so no legal proceedings happen “behind closed doors.”

Defendants Have the Right to Remain Silent 

The Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution grants you the right not to incriminate yourself when facing questioning by law enforcement. Simply put, you’re allowed by law to refuse to answer any questions that might incriminate you. It’s essential to remember that anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.

Defendants Have the Right to an Attorney 

The right to an attorney guarantees that you have legal representation throughout your trial.This right now only allows you to hire and consult with a lawyer but provides you with one free of charge if you can’t afford to hire one on your own. 

It is crucial to understand your legal standing as a defendant. Remembering these protections can go a long way toward ensuring justice is served. 

What to Do if You’re Arrested 

Finding yourself under arrest for a misdemeanor or felony can be a frightening and stressful experience, but knowing how to respond appropriately in that moment is critical.  Here are some important steps you need to remember if you’re arrested:

Remain Calm 

It’s important to stay composed and comply with law enforcement directives. Avoid any behavior or actions that may further complicate the situation or escalate tensions. You don’t want to face additional criminal charges, like resisting arrest.

Assert Your Right to Remain Silent 

You have a fundamental right not to incriminate yourself, so affirmatively communicate your decision to remain silent in response to any questioning by law enforcement. Anything you say can be used against you later during the course of legal proceedings – no matter what the police say or how nice they seem.

Express Your Desire To Speak With A Lawyer

Regardless of what law enforcement officers say, it’s important that you state clearly and confidently your desire to speak with a lawyer. Even if you can’t afford one, an attorney will be provided to represent and guide you through this complex process.

Avoid Sharing Case Details 

Maintain discretion when it comes to discussing your case. You should only speak about the details with your attorney, who is professionally obligated to maintain confidentiality and defend you to the best of their ability.  

If you find yourself in custody, know that phone calls are typically recorded and are therefore not private. Anything you say on the phone call to a loved one can be found by prosecutors and used against you. 

Always Work With a San Diego Criminal Defense Lawyer

Working with an experienced San Diego criminal defense lawyer is your best move when facing criminal charges of any kind.  No matter how “minor” you think they are, all charges can lead to convictions and can have significant consequences on your life.

If you need help with any type of criminal charge, Blair Defense Criminal Lawyers is here for you. Contact us today at (619) 357-4977 to schedule a free consultation with a San Diego criminal defense lawyer.