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Introduction to Political Science

4.5 The Rights of the Accused

Introduction to Political Science4.5 The Rights of the Accused

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Outline the components of the rights of the accused that are deemed essential according to human rights norms.
  • Analyze how different government systems treat the rights of the accused around the world.

If the government accuses a person of a crime, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and many national constitutions guarantee that person the fair implementation of due process before the government can restrict their liberties. The rights of the accused are intended to protect individuals if their freedom is at stake. Chapter 11: Courts and Law will explore these rights in greater depth.

Rights upon Arrest

In rule-of-law countries, police must advise individuals of certain rights at the time of their arrest. These include the right to have an attorney assist them with their case and the right to be cautioned that anything they say can be used against them in court. A 2016 report by the Law Library of Congress found that 108 countries require these warnings,103 and the European Convention on Human Rights and the UDHR both contain similar provisions.104 These rights include:

  • the right to remain silent;
  • a warning that anything one says can be used against one in court;
  • the right to consult legal counsel; and
  • the right to defend oneself in court.

Search and Seizure

Another way rule-of-law systems defend the rights of individuals is through protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. This means that law enforcement may perform reasonable searches and seizures, and much of the litigation in this area deals with the reasonableness of the search and seizure. The UN has created recommendations for best policing practices for all countries, including limiting the police’s right to search individuals, their homes, or their belongings to this standard. However, many countries do not adhere to these limitations. In those countries, the police can search an individual’s home or belongings or interrogate them at any time.


Right to Privacy: Mapp v. Ohio

In this Civics 101 podcast, Vince Warren, executive director for the Center for Constitutional Rights, and Boston University School of Law professor Tracey Maclin discuss the US Supreme Court’s decision in Mapp v. Ohio (1961), which decided that the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution prohibits the government from using any illegally obtained evidence against someone in a court of law.

Writ of Habeas Corpus and the Right to Appear before the Court

In all rule-of-law countries, a person held in jail has the right to demand to be brought into court and told why they are being jailed. In some countries, this process is referred to as a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. In countries where this right is not recognized, a person can be held indefinitely incommunicado without any right to seek their freedom or to demand that the government prove the charges against them.

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