It does not do you any good to tell the police "I know my rights." It is, however, very important that you actually know what your rights are, and why you have them.
A Brief Background
What we call our "rights" are established by the United States Constitution and the Colorado State Constitution. States have their own constitutions, but a state, in this case Colorado, can never give you less rights than the Federal Constitution gives you. This is why the United States Constitution is so important when it comes to your Colorado criminal case. The Federal Constitution guarantees you the minimum rights that you have. Your attorney will use these rights to prevent you from being convicted where that is possible.
For example, The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution says "The People shall be free from Unreasonable Searches and Seizures." The writers of the Constitution realized that the government could become too intrusive, overbearing, and dominant over the citizens of our country. The Fourth Amendment was meant to protect you the citizen, from the government, or in criminal cases, the police, detectives, and the District Attorney.
If you read The United States Constitution, what it says is very short and simple, and doesn’t seem to explain what "Unreasonable Searches and Seizures" actually means. For example, if an officer comes up to you on the street and asks you to empty your pockets is that unreasonable?
This is where case law comes in. Through centuries of evolution of the criminal justice system, the phrase "Unreasonable Searches and Seizures" has been interpreted by the United States Supreme Court, thousands of times, to mean very specific things based on the particular case in front of the Court. In our example above, the police must have "reasonable suspicion" to stop you on the street, and then they need "probable cause" to have you empty your pockets. If they do these things without reasonable suspicion, or probable cause respectively, then it is an "Unreasonable Search and Seizure," and you may have a good defense to your criminal case. This is based on the Supreme Court’s case law interpretation of the Fourth Amendment.
The Rights You Need to Know
As discussed above, the rights you have under The United States Constitution and Colorado State Constitution take many different forms, depending on the specific facts of your case. Your criminal defense lawyer will figure out how the complexities of your case apply to the law as your case progresses. However, before you speak with a Colorado criminal defense lawyer, you may be confronted with a police investigation, and may have to act without an attorney to aid you. This is why it is important that you understand your basic rights.
Your three most important rights are:
- The Right to Remain Silent
- The Right to an Attorney
- The Right to NOT Consent to Search
Your right to an attorney is particularly powerful if you are facing being questioned by the police. If the police are trying to get you to talk and you say "I am going to remain silent," the police will almost certainly continue to ask you questions, and try to get you to talk. However, if you ask for an attorney, they are required by law to stop talking to you altogether.
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.
When the police break the rules and violate your Constitutional rights, they are then barred from using the evidence they collect against you. These Constitutional restrictions protect everyone from governmental intrusions. It is because the police know that they can’t prosecute you if they cross the line, that we are all able to live in free country.
Please also note, while you have a Constitutional Right to a jury trial, some courts may actually make you pay a "jury fee." If you fail to pay this by the statutory deadline, the court can prohibit you from having a jury trial, and force you to have a trial to the judge. This generally weakens your chances for a successful defense. It is always better for the accused person to have a jury trial. If you appear in court before you hire a lawyer, be sure to pay your jury fee in a timely manner.