When the framers of the Constitution got together in Independence Hall in Philadelphia in mid-May of 1787, their intent was to amend the Articles of Confederation. The articles were created in 1777 and ratified in 1781 by the thirteen states. The original Articles were designed to establish the confederation of states after winning freedom from Great Britain’s rule. The Articles of Confederation relied mostly on state government without much power for a centralized form of government.
After review of the Articles, group consensus held that an entirely new document and structure for the new government was needed. This new document would provide more power for a centralized government, a method for figuring out how many representatives each state would be allotted for placement in Congress, as well as the election process of these representatives. The original document consisted of seven articles that established the structure for the American government. The first three articles provided the foundation for a democratic form of government with three different “legs” to government. The tri-lateral government consists of the legislative body—the Senate and the House of Representatives, the administrative arm—the Presidency—and the judicial arm, the Supreme Court. Each arm of government provides checks and balances for the other two.
The fourth article addresses the state structure, state citizenry, and how states are added. The fifth article provides the procedures for amending the Constitution while the sixth article addresses the authority and powers of the United States, and elected representatives. Article seven lays out the ratification procedure for the Constitution and amendments.
Bill of Rights
The first ten amendments to the Constitution—the Bill of Rights—were added in September of 1789 and enacted in December of 1791. There are currently 27 Amendments to the U.S. Constitution with the last one introduced in 1789 and not ratified until 1992. Contrary to popular belief, the Equal Rights Amendment has never been ratified and is not an amendment to the Constitution at this time.
The Bill of Rights establishes critical rights for the citizens of the United States. Many of these rights refer to the way the government must handle those accused of crimes. The idea of being presumed innocent until proven guilty encompasses these ideas even further. Under the Bill of Rights, Americans are guaranteed that they cannot be subject to illegal searches and seizures under Amendment four. Under Amendment five, they cannot testify in a manner that would incriminate themselves and they have a right to due process under the law. Under Amendment six they have the right to a fair and speedy public trial, a right to know the accusations against them and confront the accuser, as well as the right to retain counsel. American citizens under Amendment eight cannot be charged excess fines or bail.
U.S. Supreme Court Decisions
Under the current structure of government, Congress is the legislative body that makes the laws we must abide by. There are other rules that come into play when a case is heard in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. For instance, in the Miranda vs. Arizona case heard before the U.S. Supreme Court, the court’s decision ultimately changed the way that law enforcement personnel interact with a person during an arrest.
For instance, if an arrested person provides an admission of guilt without being told of his constitutional rights under the law, his admission is not allowed as evidence. The Miranda Rights statement offered to a person under arrest includes the following: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and may be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to speak to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you. Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you?” Without “Mirandizing” the alleged criminal, nothing the person says can be used against them.
While “Miranda” applies in cases involving custodial interrogation, the US Supreme Court has ruled that pre-arrest statements made during a DUI investigation are not subject to Miranda. Therefore, when a person is stopped and subsequently arrested for DUI, they can expect that the police officer will not read them the Miranda warnings. For example, in Los Angeles, police officers are trained that they are not required to read Miranda warnings during a DUI arrest.
Many cases heard in the U.S. Supreme Court may make a substantial difference as to the way many procedures are handled in government, or whether a law passed in Congress is constitutional or not. For more information on the U.S. Constitution, criminal procedures and more, please click on one of the many links below:
- Articles of Confederation
- Constitution of the United States
- The Bill of Rights
- The House of Representatives
- The Senate
- The Presidents of the United States
- The Supreme Court
- “Enlightenment and Human Rights”
- Equal Rights Amendment
- Overview of the Fourteenth Amendment—Civil Rights
- Search and Seizure—Rights Under the Constitution
- Right to a Speedy Trial—Criminal Rights Recent Developments
- “Speedy Justice”
- The Right to a Lawyer and Effective Counsel
- The Right to a Jury Trial and Being Sentenced by a Judge
- Understanding the Eighth Amendment—Excessive Bail
- Criminal Justice and the Constitution
- Protection from Self Incrimination
- “Pleading the Fifth”
- Grand Jury Indictment
- Miranda Rights—Adjudicated Law
- “The Shrinking Bill of Rights”
- Criminal Procedural Rights
- “Crime is a Public Injury”
- The Rights of the Defendant versus Child Protection Rights
- “Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act”
- The U.S. Department of Justice
- “Death Penalty Fact Sheet”
- The Federal Bureau of Prisons