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U.S. Supreme Court to decide important defendant rights

The U.S. Bill of Rights is intended to protect the rights of Americans in criminal prosecutions. However, some of its guarantees do not apply to the states. The U.S. Supreme Court is currently reviewing whether states should incorporate all of these rights. Its ruling, expected in June, could greatly impact criminal defense rights in Indiana.

The Supreme Court has not previously addressed whether states must incorporate the Eighth Amendment's right against excessive fines and the Third Amendment's protection against quartering troops. In earlier cases, it did not require states to guarantee the right to criminal indictment by a grand jury under the Fifth Amendment, jury unanimity in criminal trials under the Sixth Amendment and the right to a jury in civil trials contained in the Seventh Amendment.

Incorporation of the Eighth Amendment was raised in an appeal from Indiana that is under Court review. The case involves the seizure of a criminal defendant's $40,000 vehicle in a civil forfeiture action after his criminal conviction for a drug offense.

The defendant in that case argued that the car's worth exceeded any possible criminal fine that he faced. Indiana and many other states use civil forfeiture actions, particularly in drug cases, to seize assets. In oral argument on that appeal held late last month, some justices indicated that the state should guarantee the Bill of Right's protections.

Only seventeen states, not including Indiana, guarantee the right to a grand jury indictment, according to statistics on grand juries compiled by the Bureau of Justice. Most states allow a prosecutor to bring charges, which are later reviewed by a judge. Prosecutors and defense attorneys, however, claim that this requirement would be more burdensome. They claim that grand jury review, in practice, does not adequately restrict inappropriate prosecutions.

An attorney should be consulted as soon as possible after a stop or arrest by law enforcement. Lawyers can help assure that a defendant's rights are protected.

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