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Chapter 15.3 The American Legal System. Legal Protections in the U.S. Constitution  American colonists owed their rights to legal principles developed.

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Presentation on theme: "Chapter 15.3 The American Legal System. Legal Protections in the U.S. Constitution  American colonists owed their rights to legal principles developed."— Presentation transcript:

1 Chapter 15.3 The American Legal System

2 Legal Protections in the U.S. Constitution  American colonists owed their rights to legal principles developed in England. Although written statutes have replaced common law, courts still refer to common law principles when no statutes exist for a given issue.  The Constitution gives each branch of government a role in shaping laws.

3 continued  Courts based their rulings on written laws and on precedents of earlier cases. Judges then use these rulings to decide similar cases in the future. This process is called stare decisis for “let the decision stand”.  Article I provides a safeguard against being kept in jail unlawfully. It includes the writ of habeas corpus, which requires an official who has arrested someone to bring that person to court and explain why he/she is being held.

4 continued  Article I forbids enactment of a bill of attainder – a law that punishes a person accused of a crime without a trial or fair hearing in court. It also forbids an ex post facto law, which would allow a person to be punished for an action that was not against the law when it was committed.  The 5 th and 14 th Amendments guarantee due process of law – the government may not take our lives, liberty or property without the proper exercise of law.

5 continued  The equal protection clause of the 14 th Amendment requires the government to treat all people equally, regardless of gender, race, or religion.  A person can be convicted of treason for waging war against the U.S., joining its enemies or giving aid and comfort to the enemy. The Constitution defines treason so that the government cannot misuse the law to punish people for political acts.

6 The Rights of People Accused of Crimes  Rights of accused people are based on the idea that a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty in court. The prosecution must prove guilt. The defendant does not have to prove innocence.

7 continued  The 4 th Amendment protects against “unreasonable searches and seizures.” To intrude on someone’s property, police must first get a search warrant – a judge’s authorization specifying the place to be searched and items that may be seized. Police must have good reason to believe that the wanted person or evidence can be found there.

8 continued  In Mapp v. Ohio, the Supreme Court established the exclusionary rule. If police gain evidence in a way that violates the 4 th Amendment, the evidence may not be used in court.  The 5 th Amendment states that people do not have to say anything that might incriminate themselves. They can “take the 5 th ” and decline to answer questions.

9 continued  In Miranda v. Arizona, the Supreme Court held that police must inform suspects that they have the right to remain silent, but this right may not be used to obstruct justice.  The 5 th Amendment ban double jeopardy. Once tried and found not guilty, a person may not be tried again for the same crime.

10 continued  The 5 th Amendment says that people accused of serious federal crimes must be brought before a grand jury. If the grand jury decides there is enough evidence to proceed to trial, it indicts or issues a formal charge against the person.  The 6 th Amendment says that an accused person has the right to a lawyer. In Gideon v. Wainwright, the Supreme Court interpreted this to mean that if the accused could not afford a lawyer, the state must provide one.

11 continued  The 6 th Amendment says that accused people must be informed of the accusations against them. They have a right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury and may question witnesses against them. Impartial means that jury members must not know anyone involved in the case and must not have made up their minds before trial.

12 continued  Jury members usually come from the area where the crime was committed. In federal courts, all trial juries, called petit juries, have 12 people who must reach a unanimous decision. States have juries of 6 to 12 members.  Defendants may choose to have a bench trial – appear before a judge without a jury.

13 continued  Few criminal cases come to trial. Most are settled through plea bargaining. The defense attorney and prosecutor negotiate. The prosecutor offers the defendant a chance to plead guilty to a less serious crime in exchange for receiving a less severe penalty. A judge must agree to the plea bargain.

14 continued  Plea bargains reduce the time and expense of a trial. They also reduce the huge volume of cases courts must process.  The 8 th Amendment outlaws “cruel and unusual punishments”. The punishment must fit the crime.

15 continued  The Supreme Court ruled in Furman v. Georgia that the death penalty as then administered was not constitutional. It was being imposed in unfair ways and mainly on African Americans and poor people. In response, most states revised their death penalty laws to comply with the Court’s guidelines.

16 continued  The 8 th Amendment prohibits “excessive bail”. Bail is money an arrested person pays to a court to win release from jail while awaiting trial. Its purpose is to guarantee that the person will return for trial. After the trial, the person gets the money back.

17 continued  Courts may not set bail so high that a person is unfairly forced to stay in jail. In cases involving serious crimes, however, the judge may set a very high bail. In extreme cases, like murder, or if the arrested person is likely to flee, the judge may deny bail.

18 Our Legal Responsibilities  Americans have a responsibility to serve on a jury and testify in court.  Americans have the responsibility to obey laws and cooperate with law enforcement officials.  Americans must work peacefully to change unfair, outdated laws.

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