What does it mean to have the right to a 'fair trial?'

Regardless of what law enforcement officials accuse you of doing, the U.S. Constitution guarantees you certain rights. You may know about the right to remain silent, the fact that police cannot just search and/or seize your property without probable cause, and your right to an attorney.

You may have also heard that you have the right to a "fair trial," but what that means is not quite clear. If you face the prospect of leaving your fate up to a court of law, it may help to understand what this concept involves.

The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

Your right to a fair trial comes from the Sixth Amendment, but you should know that the Constitution doesn't actually use the words "fair trial." Instead, it outlines certain rights you have when you are on trial, including the following:

  • Police, prosecutors and judges cannot infringe on your rights without due process of law, which means not without some formal procedure. They must respect your legal rights.
  • If your trial has a jury, you have the right for it to be impartial. This means that no juror can have a bias against you for some reason or personal interest in the outcome of your case.
  • You may know you have a right to an attorney, but you may not know that you also have the right to an adequate defense. If your attorney somehow fails to provide that to you, it could constitute a violation of your rights.
  • You have the right to confront the witnesses against you, which means that you can ask them questions about their testimony during "cross-examination."
  • You may also present your own witnesses and evidence supporting your defense as long as they do not somehow violate evidentiary rules or court procedures.

Your trial must also take place within a certain amount of time -- a speedy trial --, but most people waive this right in order to ensure they have enough time to prepare a proper defense. If you prove a violation of any of these rights, you could receive a new trial or the verdict in your case could be reversed.

The best course of action would entail taking steps ahead of time to make sure your rights are not violated at every step of the process. For this reason, it would probably be in your best interests to enlist the aid of a criminal defense attorney as quickly as possible just as other Louisiana residents in your situation have done.

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