There has been a lot of talk, action, protests and riots around the country lately. Due to the massive turmoil caused by the events surrounding the death of a man being detained by law enforcement. It has brought politics and a question of rights to a talk at your own kitchen table. While we all know some of our rights as they are guaranteed to us, do we know them all? And do we know where our essential freedoms stop and aren’t protected by the law?
You Have the Right
The following are the basic human rights that we as American citizens are granted thanks to the Bill of Rights (the first 10 amendments to the US Constitution). While there are more in total, the first 10 are considered our freedoms and are quoted when “you know your rights”
These rights were the founding principles for our country. These essential freedoms protect citizens and allow them to live without fear. Those rights are listed below.
- Freedom of speech, the press, religion, and to assembly (aka to protest). This was one of the cornerstones that our country was founded on.
- You have the right to bear arms. This provides you the means to defend yourself.
- Here there is protections for citizens from being forced out of their homes to accommodate the army. This dates back to revolutionary times when it was practiced for British soldiers to lodge in American homes.
- Protection from unreasonable search and seizure is provided. It requires probably cause for a search and in most cases a warrant is required. In some instances, an officer may search with probable cause and no warrant, this must have exigent circumstances- meaning there was a threat of harm to self or others and action is needed.
- For those accused of crimes, you are granted protections for life, liberty and property: this grants you the right to a grand jury for serious charges, prevents double jeopardy (being charged with the same crime more than once), prevents self-incrimination or testifying in court against your self, and due process which means a fair procedure and trial. You are read this right also famously known as your Miranda Rights, when arrested.
- Further criminal protections that include a speedy and public trial, told of the charges you face, the right to face your accuser, the right to an attorney, and trial by an unbiased jury. This is part of due process prevents justice from being upheld.
- The right to a trial by jury, even on federal charges. A jury allows for you to have a case heard by a panel of peers rather than just a single person to determine your fate.
- Disallows high bail and fines that are deemed excessive and cruel or unusual punishment in criminal cases. Bail and fines have to be within reason for the crimes. Also punishments must follow procedures and protocols to disallow inhumane treatment.
- The rights to things not mentioned. This means that just because they aren’t stated in the Constitution, they can still be a legal obligation or moral right- ex. property rights.
- There is a limit the power of the Federal government. If it isn’t stated as their role, then it is given to the states or their people. Our country was designed to limit the power of the government and keep it in the hands of the people.
There are other amendments as well (17 of them) that give women the right to vote, prevent voting discrimination based on age over 18, race, color or “condition of servitude”, abolished slavery, and set the structure for our government- including the House, Senate, Presidential terms, etc. These will be explain in the next part of our series and discuss the Civil Rights.
Protected by Rights?
While these rights grant protections, there are limitations to what is protected. You have the right to free speech and protests, but you don’t have the right for looting and destruction of property. While you have the right to bear arms, you aren’t guaranteed the ability to own a weapon if you have a criminal record. They were designed to help protect you from injustice, but they don’t give the right to some of the actions that have been featured lately.
Some of the actions that aren’t protected:
- Riots- protests with acts of violence or destruction of public or private property
- Looting- essentially theft
- Threats of violence- you can say your opinion or what you think, but there is a line in which you enter criminal boundaries
These 10 amendments were designed to protect our basic liberties of life, liberty and property. They grant you protections in the context of criminal law, and allow you to have the basic freedoms that our country was founded on.
None of this should be used as legal advice or to replace expert consultation. This should however give you background into the rights you have, what you are guaranteed as a citizen and how the law protects us from our government.