What Are Your Rights in a Criminal Investigation?

July 1, 2021 Criminal Defense

What Are Your Rights in a Criminal Investigation?

Being charged with a crime can be a distressing experience and you may be unsure of the standard investigation process leading up to an arrest. It is important that you know that you or your loved one have rights during every step of a criminal investigation.

Fourth Amendment Rights

The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. It provides that police must request and obtain a search warrant prior to searching you, your home, or your car. The judge will issue a warrant only if the officer is able to establish probable cause that the evidence of a crime will be found on the person or premises that they would like to search. While this search is being performed, police must stay within the scope of the warrant. For example, if the warrant is for a stolen car, police cannot go through drawers, cupboards, or other places that would be too small to hide a car.

When your Fourth Amendment right is violated, the Exclusionary Rule will apply.[1] Under this rule, evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment is inadmissible at the trial of the person who experienced the illegal search or seizure. You can read more about Fourth Amendment Protections here.

Exceptions to the Warrant Requirement

While law enforcement officers typically must obtain a warrant before conducting a search, there are some exceptions, including:

  • Consent: If an officer wants to conduct a search of your property without a search warrant, they can ask for your consent. If you consent to a search, no warrant is needed. Many times, people will give consent without understanding the implications. It is your Constitutional right to say “no” to a requested search.
  • Plain View: Florida police officers do not need a warrant if they see “evidence” of illegal activity in plain view. If an officer is lawfully in a certain place and they see drugs or other contraband in plain view, they may seize it without a warrant. Lawful presence is satisfied when an officer detains a suspect with reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.
  • Emergency Circumstances: In an emergency, officers may be justified in taking action without a warrant when the time it would take to get a warrant would jeopardize public safety or lead to the loss of important evidence. This can happen when an officer is in “hot pursuit” of a fleeing felon and the chase continues into the suspect’s home, an officer hears shouts or screams coming from a residence, or, following a street drug arrest, an officer enters the home after the suspect shouts into the house to dispose of the drugs in some manner.
  • Terry Stop: A “Terry Stop,” or a “Stop and Frisk” is a brief investigatory stop of a person without a warrant. The search is limited to a pat down of the individual’s outer clothing to discover whether a weapon is present.[2] Law enforcement must have reasonable suspicion the person being searched has committed, is about to commit, or is committing a crime.[3] Reasonable suspicion is a lesser standard than probable cause, which is needed for arrests. A reasonable suspicion is met if the officer believes something based on specific facts and the suspicion is formulated by inferences from those facts. If, during the stop, probable cause to arrest is developed, the suspect will be arrested.

You can read more about exceptions to the warrant requirement here.

Fifth Amendment Rights

The First Amendment provides that “no person shall be compelled to be a witness against himself.”[4] In other words, if an officer asks you if you have committed a crime and answering would incriminate you, you are entitled to remain silent. Once you have invoked this right, only you can waive it. This right is also known as your Miranda Rights. You do not need to wait for the police to read you your Miranda Rights or place you under arrest to invoke your right to remain silent. If your Miranda Rights are violated, the evidence obtained from the interrogation will generally be inadmissible at trial. You can learn more about Miranda Rights and its exceptions here

Sixth Amendment Rights

The Sixth Amendment guarantees a number of rights designed to make criminal prosecutions accurate and fair, including: [5]

  • Right to Assistance of Counsel: The Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to an attorney during an interrogation, trial, sentencing, and the initial appeal of a conviction. This right is not dependent on the defendant’s ability to pay for an attorney, rather, if a defendant cannot afford a lawyer, the government is required to provide one.
  • Right to a Jury Trial: The Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to an impartial jury, the right to have the jury listen to all witnesses, and the right to have the jury see all evidence.
  • Right to a Speedy Trial: The right to a speedy trial is critical in assuring the defendant receives a fair trial. You can find more information on Florida’s standard Speedy Trial Rules, and how they were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic here.
  • Right to be Informed of Criminal Charges: The Sixth Amendment right to “be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation” ensures that the accused receives a fair trial.
  • Right to be Confronted by Adverse Witnesses: This right prevents prosecutors from relying on statements made outside of the courtroom to make their case. It requires the prosecutors put their witnesses on the stand, under oath. This right allows the defendant to confront the witness in person, which could put pressure on the witness to tell the truth. It also allows the defendant’s counsel to cross-examine the witness, which may reveal inconsistencies or unreliable traits. Further, this gives the jury a view of the witness, so they can decide for themselves if the witness is believable.[6]
  • Right to Confront and Cross-Examine Adverse Witnesses: This right allows the defendant to question any witnesses who are building a case against them.
  • The Right to a Public Trial: This right protects defendants from vindictive prosecutors, corrupt judges, or lying witnesses. Transparency throughout trial promotes the people’s confidence in the justice system. To learn more about vindictive prosecution, click here.

Contact a Tallahassee Criminal Defense Lawyer

During a criminal investigation, it is imperative that you hire an experienced criminal defense attorney to guide you through the process. Don Pumphrey and the Pumphrey Law legal team is ready to fight for the best possible outcome for you or your loved one. Speak to a Tallahassee criminal defense attorney today at (850) 681-7777 or send an online message to discuss your rights during an open and free consultation with our legal team.

This article was written by Caroline Calavan

Caroline Calavan Pumphrey Law









[1] § 4:1. Introduction, 22 Fla. Prac., Criminal Practice & Procedure § 4:1 (2021 ed.).

[2] Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968).

[3] Sutton v. State, 698 So.2d 1391 (Fla. 2d DCA 1997).

[4] U.S. Const. amend. V.

[5] U.S. Const. amend. VI.

[6] California v. Green, 399 U.S. 149 (1970)

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