The Role of Constitutional Rights in Criminal Investigation

In our system of justice, criminal laws prescribe punishment to deter people from a particular form of conduct. People generally understand how this works: police and private investigators work on violations of crime and prosecutors seek a punishment which is delivered by a judge or jury. What is not well-known is how our Constitutional rights are enforced in the context of a criminal investigation.

Just like there are laws which regulate criminal conduct, there are laws which regulate the conduct of the police in investigating crime. These laws are worthy of enforcement, too.  But, a system of enforcement which would require the police to call their own fouls would be no system at all. This is why violations of individual rights are investigated by criminal attorneys and enforced by judges by preventing the State from using evidence tied such violations. This is a difficult concept for many people to grasp. Many people ask: “why do we enforce laws which make it harder on the police?” or “why do we let possibly guilty people go free because the police didn’t follow the rules?”

Part of the answer to these questions requires a careful consideration of what Justice is. If the only goal of Justice is to make sure every guilty person goes to jail, then these rules surely make no sense, at all. But, even the most conservative judges and legal scholars will tell you that the highest goal of our system of justice is to prevent innocent people from being convicted. In this day and age, the affect of heavy handed police investigative tactics on the human psyche is well-documented. Physically and psychologically coercive tactics produce unreliable evidence, overall. While creativity and deception is a necessary element of investigating crime, the judiciary must enforce proper boundaries, even when that means letting a guilty person go free.

The rest of the answer has to do with protecting our rights to be free from government prying into our lawful business and private daily lives. Preventing the use of evidence obtained when the government unreasonably restricts our liberty or searches our property makes sense. Enforcement of laws requires consequences for violations. Unfortunately, when the government violates an innocent person’s privacy, there is simply little or no repercussion. Violating the rights of an innocent person produces nothing of interest – no product for us to condemn. The efficient solution to this challenge is to provide consequences when something of interest is in fact discovered. Allowing possibly guilty people to walk free is a decision made with a concern for the bigger picture.

This approach is a tough pill for many to swallow. Some people say that too many people “get off on technicalities.” My opinion is that our individual rights are far from technicalities and it is an opinion that is supported by generations of legislators, judges, and scholars. Protecting the rights of a person accused of a crime is a worthy endeavor, and one which should be pursued by each and every attorney.

Posted in Criminal Defense

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