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Criminal Cases

The Right To a Fair Trial

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The following is not legal advice but is for information only. Legal advice is when an attorney applies the law to a person's individual circumstances and advises them on their legal options or potential exposure to legal harm, which a web page clearly does not.

The right to a fair trial is a fundamental principle that is actually a collection of individual rights. Many United States Supreme Court cases relate to the following. Here is an outline of the key aspects of a fair trial:


1. Presumption of Innocence. Every person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. That includes, for example, not appearing for trial in a prison or jail uniform, not having any shift in the burden of proof in a prosecutor’s closing argument, or using evidence that is unfairly prejudicial. Also, the onus is always on the government to prove its case with innocence presumed.


2. Right Not to Self-Incriminate. A person should not be compelled to be a witness against himself or herself. If someone chooses not to give evidence on their own behalf that can also not be used against them.


3. Right to Be Informed of Charges. The accused must be promptly informed of the nature and cause of the charges against them. This also relates to knowing the evidence against an accused and be notified of favorable evidence to help prepare a defense.


4. Right to Adequate Time and Facilities for Preparation of A Defense. The accused must have sufficient time and facilities to prepare their defense and to communicate with competent legal counsel.


5. Right to a Speedy Trial. The accused has the right to be tried without undue delay. A government cannot hold someone indefinitely without the ability to have the state prove its case via a trial in a timely way. Delays can make a trial unfair.


6. Right to Counsel. The accused has the right to defend themselves in person or through effective legal assistance. If an accused does not have legal assistance because they cannot afford it, they are entitled to have it provided for them at public expense. Having any lawyer is not enough either. A lawyer has to be competent.


7. Right to a Public Trial. Trials should be open to the public to ensure transparency and make sure that not only justice is done but seen to be done, with fairness and due process.


8. Right to Due Process. A case should be decided without arbitrary use of government power and a person’s rights cannot be infringed without formal procedure. Anything less infects the whole trial.


9. Right to an Independent and Impartial Tribunal. The case should be heard by a competent, independent, and impartial tribunal. That includes a right of a defendant to an impartial jury of their peers, free of bias.


10. Right to Examine Witnesses. The accused must be given an adequate opportunity to examine the witnesses against them, to confront them in person via cross-examination, and to obtain the attendance and examination of witnesses on their own behalf under the same conditions as witnesses against them. The right to in-person testimony of an adverse witness is a live issue currently being undermined in Maine.


11.  Right to an Interpreter. If the accused cannot understand or speak the language used in court, they have the right to the free assistance of an interpreter.


Undergirding these principles is that governments do not have rights. People do. Trials should also accord more process and fairness for a person accused of an offense than a prosecutor, a witness, or a state entity. After all, liberty is at stake for a defendant.

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