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Released on a Technicality

Byron Warnken: As the old joke about how I thought these were all technicalities till they started to come after me.

Andy Radding: There are no technicalities, they are constitutional rules. They are legal rules.

Byron Warnken: Yes. There are all technicalities, but those technicalities are a part of the fabric of our society. They were given to us by the framers of the constitution.

Andy Radding: The popular press and TV shows have used the term technicalities. You do not see the word technicalities in legal opinions.

Byron Warnken: The only way our system works is with a combination of all of these technicalities.

Andy Radding: What people call technicalities are actually legal rules that were not followed by either the law enforcement officers or the prosecutors and those are far from technicalities.

Byron Warnken: When that results in a not guilty. The people who are not happy with that say he got off on a technicality, that technicality is the law and if the state or federal government has not obeyed the rule and their case fails, that is not a technicality. That is how our system works and that is how the constitution demands, it works.

Byron Warnken: What you really want is a jealous, prepared, and honest prosecutor pushing as hard as he can or she can, against an honest, competent, prepared, jealous defense council and only with that adversarial system do you have any hope that the case falls out in the right place.

More on Andrew RaddingMore on Byron Warnken

The Major Technicalities a/k/a Fundamental Constitutional Rights

While we are understandably frustrated when a police blunder or other error lets the guilty go free, it's important to recognize that many of the "technicalities" that we abhor in the context of a specific case are actually fundamental rights embodied in the United States Constitution:

TECHNICALITY: The Fourth Amendment

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

The Fourth Amendment prohibits arbitrary searches and seizures of persons and property. In general, if a search or arrest is unwarranted, law enforcement cannot obtain a "warrant" to search or to arrest. There are many exceptions to the Fourth Amendment "warrant requirement," but this constitutional right does serve as an important limitation on police conduct.

TECHNICALITY: The Fifth Amendment

"No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."

The Fifth Amendment provides a host of protections that we often take for granted. It's "double jeopardy" clause precludes us from being tried more than once for the same crime. The Fifth Amendment gives us the right to remain silent emerges and a privilege against self-incrimination. This Amendment also right not to be compelled to be a witness against himself. The Fifth Amendment also provides us with "due process" rights.

TECHNICALITY: The Sixth Amendment

"In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense."

The Sixth Amendment gives criminal defendants the right to assistance of counsel, the right to compel witnesses to appear at trial, the right to confront opposing witnesses in cross-examination, the right to trial by jury, and the right to be informed of the nature of the charges that have been filed against them. And, just in case the state wants to drag out your prosecution for years, the Constitution gives you the right to a speedy trial

TECHNICALITY: The Eighth Amendment

"Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted."

The Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, excessive bail in federal prosecutions, and bars excessive fines. Admittedly, this is rarely used as a technicality to free the guilty, but it places more humane limits on how they are treated after conviction.

TECHNICALITY: The Fourteenth Amendment

"Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

Translation: All citizens are equal in the eyes of the law and the government cannot treat some folks worse than others on the basis of race, religion, gender, or national origin. Not only that, but all of the rights granted in the Bill of Rights must be respected by the state as well as the federal government.

Not everyone arrested will have the benefit of watching Clientelevision ahead of time. Understanding this unfortunate fact of life, and the need to inform all citizens of their rights, the U.S. Supreme Court requires that law enforcement provide this information in the form of Miranda warnings.

Law Can Be Stranger than Fiction

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