Criminal Law and Procedure

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The drug abuse and addiction suspect refusing to answer any papers by the state, resulting in imprisonment for two years with the possibility of rehabilitation, raises two primary concerns. First, the refusal to answer any inquiries by the state touches on the applicability and relevance of the constitutionally guaranteed right to silence. Second, considering the nature of the charge and the resultant sentence, questions on the appropriateness and effectiveness of harsh sentences for drug abuse and addiction problems are expected. The judge’s sentence, although seemingly excessive, was an inevitable result of the accused’s refusal to cooperate. Perhaps the outcome would have been better if he had expressly invoked the entitlements to silence and counsel, as they would have facilitated the negotiation for rehabilitation first and imprisonment as a last resort.

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The US Constitution’s Fifth Amendment safeguards criminal suspects from any compellation to make self-incriminating statements. It is accepted law that law enforcement agents must inform people of their rights once placed under arrest. The right to remain silent is among the Miranda rights that the police must inform every criminal suspect at the point they place them into custody. Consequently, no one is required to speak to the police or prosecution, but an accused must invoke the entitlement affirmatively for it to be operative. It necessarily follows that the absence of an affirmative invocation of the right to silence can be incriminating against a suspect. The US Supreme Court case of Salinas v Texas, in which the prosecution tendered the accused’s silence and change in demeanor as incriminating evidence, is instructive on this point (Cowen and Park). Hence, although every suspect arrested and charged for any offence has the right to remain silent, he must assert it affirmatively for it to be operative and effective.

The circumstances of the present scenario are indicative of the accused’s failure to invoke his right to silence, thus, rendering it inoperative. According to the facts, he refused to answer any papers by the state. Although he was not under any obligation to cooperate with the police or prosecution, he also failed to invoke his right to remain silent affirmatively. Consequently, the state agents construed the refusal to cooperate as incriminating evidence against him, and that was the cornerstone for the ensuing two-year imprisonment sentence. However, had he asserted his right to silence, the court would appoint defense counsel for him, and an opportunity to either plea bargain or convince the court that rehabilitation was the better option would arise.

The two-year imprisonment verdict is undoubtedly harsh and excessive for an individual with drug abuse and addiction problem. Such sentencing tendencies are responsible for the fact that the majority of those imprisoned in the US are on drug-related offenses (National Institute on Drug Abuse [NIDA]). They are also counterproductive because they opt for the criminalization and institutional incarceration of people with drug abuse and substance addiction issues rather than sending them to rehabilitation and treatment. It is evident, therefore, that the US criminal justice system treats drug addiction as public safety risks rather than a public health issue deserving of rehabilitative interventions. Nonetheless, the possibility of rehabilitation in the accused’s sentence shows that the courts are aware of the need for public health interventions. Therefore, if the accused had invoked his rights to silence and counsel, maybe a better deal would have been possible. However, the failure to cooperate or invoke his rights arguably became incriminating evidence that supported the charge against him.

Witnesses and Testimony in the Derek Chauvin Case

The Derek Chauvin case is an ongoing criminal trial in the courts of Minnesota against a former police officer accused of the death of George Floyd while executing an arrest in May 2020. This matter has generated extensive publicity because the killing occurred in broad daylight and highlighted the intersection of race and police brutality in the US. The case highly relies on witnesses and their testimony because the incident happened in the presence of many people, a majority of whom managed to film it. The ensuing public outrage culminated in the dismissal of the police officers involved and the institution of charges for murder.

Witness testimony undoubtedly constituted the cornerstone of the prosecution case against Derek Chauvin. Initial reports indicated that there were almost four hundred prospective witnesses, including three of the accused’s colleagues, at the time of deciding to prosecute (Radio.com Staff). However, the prosecution finally settled on and called thirty-eight witnesses to testify (Walsh et al.). A majority of the prosecution witnesses were bystanders that saw and filmed the incident, including four children. Others were emergency services, medical, and law enforcement professionals who, cumulatively, made a strong case that Chauvin was responsible for Floyd’s death. The bystanders primarily established that they saw Officer Chauvin execute an arrest in a brutal manner that qualified as torture, and Floyd lost his life in the process. The law enforcement agents established that Chauvin’s actions were against established policy while the medical and emergency service professionals were critical to identifying the time and cause of death. The cause of death was a particularly contentious issue in the case as the defense maintained that the accused was not responsible.

The defense witnesses and testimony, on the other hand, sought to rebut the prosecution’s claims and maintained that Chauvin was not responsible for Floyd’s death. Consequently, the defense called seven witnesses to testify on his behalf (Yancey-Bragg et al.). The main defense witness insisted that the defendant had acted appropriately and within the stipulated use-of-force parameters. Another witness, a former police officer who had interacted with the victim before, testified that Floyd had trouble submitting to authority. The defense medical expert attributed the death to other factors, including underlying conditions, drug and substance abuse, and carbon poising, in an attempt to deflect responsibility from Chauvin. Another witness, the victim’s former girlfriend, advanced testimony likely to support that Floyd was under drug influence. Additionally, Chauvin’s colleague present at the scene asserted that the crowd had been so aggressive that the officers feared for their safety. All defense witnesses attempted to deflect responsibility for the death from the accused but made potentially fatal concessions during cross-examination.

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An interesting aspect of the case relating to witnesses and testimony demonstrates the application of the Fifth Amendment, the right to silence. Derek Chauvin, following his attorney’s advice, declined to testify in his defense (Barrett et al.). Although he was uniquely poised to give a subjective first-hand narration of how the events and, perhaps, provide an appreciation of his state of mind at the time, he declined to avert self-incrimination. Further, the inclusion of Officer Chang’s testimony is questionable as the court proceedings reveal that, at some point, he was unable to see what was happening between Chauvin and Floyd (PBS). Therefore, it is arguable that his testimony did not have any probative value since he cannot attest to what he did not see.

According to the US Constitution’s Sixth Amendment, anyone charged with an offence likely to result in incarceration has the right to have the help of an attorney. The essence of this provision is a criminal defendant’s constitutionally mandated assistance and representation at trial and, if he cannot afford one, the appointment of a lawyer by the government at the public’s expense. The Constitutions of the respective States also have similar guarantees for defendants in their criminal courts. This constitutional safeguard specifies an entitlement to legal advice in every criminal suspect’s interaction with the criminal justice system. This right usually manifests at the time of arrest if a suspect makes an affirmative invocation of the right to counsel, at which point the police must cease all interrogation. Therefore, the government provides for this right because the US and respective State Constitutions demand it.

Multiple reasons justifying the provision of the right to counsel exist, but all of them serve the same ultimate purpose of ensuring that the criminal defendant gets a fair trial. The US criminal justice system is adversarial in nature, in which each side aggressively puts forth its case and evidence hoping to persuade the judge and jury. Navigating this system requires some form of legal expertise, usually technical, and beyond the understanding of many people. For example, knowledge of the rules of admissibility or witness examination is beyond anyone without legal training which is unlikely to raise an objection upon the tendering of inadmissible evidence or leading of unsuitable questions. Therefore, the confrontational nature of criminal proceedings coupled with the technical expertise required is grounds for insistence on the right to counsel.

Another reason why the government recognizes this right derives from the liberty and resource constraints that often plague criminal defendants. For example, an accused that is unable to raise bail or bond remains in custody for the duration of the trial. Consequently, he lacks the capacity to undertake any effective investigation of the facts and evidence in preparation for his defense. However, the guarantee of legal assistance usually alleviates this concern because a defense lawyer executes these tasks. Regarding resources, criminal trials typically involve state prosecutors and law enforcement driving the case against the defendant. The state usually dispenses unlimited resources in the prosecution of criminal cases, thereby depicting the proverbial ‘David and Goliath’ analogy. It necessarily follows that the right to counsel mitigates this imbalance through the provision of the legal and technical resources needed to face one’s accusers.

Another foundation for the right to an attorney is the need for a professional and independent third party to ensure that the accused’s constitutional and statutory rights are respected and upheld at all times. The potential abuse of power by law enforcement agents and other actors within the criminal justice system is also a justification for emphasis on counsel’s presence. Recent events, particularly encounters between police officers and people of color, are evidence of how people in authority are prone to excesses in the execution of their duties. Accordingly, the right to a lawyer aims to avoid any violations of the rights of a criminal suspect at the time of arrest and throughout the trial process. Regardless of the diverse objectives that this entitlement offers, its ultimate design is to ensure that an accused gets a fair trial.

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Works Cited

Barrett, Joe et al. “Derek Chauvin Decides Not to Testify about George Floyd’s Death.” The Wall Street Journal, 2021, Web.

Cowen, Alexandra, and Chanwoo Park. “Salinas v. Texas.” Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute, Web.

NIDA. “Criminal Justice Drugfacts.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2020, Web.

PBS. “WATCH LIVE: Trial of Derek Chauvin, Charged With Killing George Floyd – Day 12 | Direct Feed.” YouTube, uploaded by PBSNewsHour, 2021, Web.

Radio.com Staff. “Witness List for Derek Chauvin Trial is Now Public and has 400 People on it.” Audacy, 2021, Web.

Walsh, Paul et al. “Who are the Witnesses in the Derek Chauvin Trial?.” Star Tribune, 2021, Web.

Yancey-Bragg, N’dea et al. “Defense in Derek Chauvin Trial Rests After 2 Days and 7 Witnesses. Here are the Highlights.” USA Today, 2021, Web.

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