We oftentimes come across one of the amendments to the American Constitution, also known as the Bill of Rights. You’ve probably heard that you have the right to “plead the fifth” or “take the fourth”. But how much do you really know about what these terms mean? And what about the more obscure amendments that we don’t talk about very often? Here is your guide to the first 10 amendments to the Constitution.
Back in the day, the political parties in America were known as the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists. When America was created and the Constitution was ratified, many people were excited and happy. However, some people, namely the Anti-Federalist party, were worried that the Constitution did not provide enough security to the individual. The Anti-Federalists were concerned that people and their rights had to be protected from the central government. This makes sense, considering the difficulties that Americans had with the British and Britain’s central government. The Federalists, on the other hand, felt that the Constitution itself could act as a “bill of rights”. They thought it could protect the people. Ultimately, both parties compromised by creating the Bill of Rights, which was ratified in 1789.
The First Amendment
What it says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
What it means: The First Amendment protects five basic rights that people should have – freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom to petition the government in order to correct wrongs.
The Second Amendment
What it says: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”
What it means: Every state has the right to maintain a militia and every citizen has the right to own weapons such as guns.
The Third Amendment
What it says: “No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.”
What it means: Before the American Revolution, colonists were forced to provide food and housing for British soldiers. Because this was seen as an invasion of privacy and it cost colonists money to feed and lodge soldiers, the Third Amendment says that during times of peace, American citizens will never be forced to keep soldiers in their homes.
The Fourth Amendment
What it says: “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.”
What it means: You are protected from unreasonable search by the police. Police need a court order (search warrant) in order to search your home, your possessions, or your personal body. You are protected from search without good cause.
The Fifth Amendment
What it says: “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; also, no person 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.”
What it means: This is a big one. The Fifth Amendment says that you:
- Have the right to due process of the law.
- Are innocent until proven guilty.
- Have the right to have a grand jury decide a verdict if you face a charge where the punishment is death.
- Cannot be tried more than once for the same crime.
- Have the right to remain silent.
- Have protection from self-incrimination.
- If your private property is taken over by the government for public use, you will be reimbursed.
The Sixth Amendment
What it says: “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.”
What it means: You have the right to a “fair and speedy trial” which includes the right to a lawyer.
The Seventh Amendment
What it says: “In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.”
What it means: If you have a civil case that involves property worth more than $20, you have the right to a jury trial.
The Eighth Amendment
What it says: “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”
What it means: You are protected from having to pay bail that is unreasonably high just to be released from prison before your trial.
The Ninth Amendment
What it says: “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”
What it means: American citizens have the fundamental rights listed in the first eight Amendments whether they are defined or not.
The Tenth Amendment
What it says: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”
What it means: Each person and state has “reserved powers” that are not necessarily listed in the Bill of Rights. This allows for more amendments to be added to the Constitution.
These are the first ten amendments to the constitution. If you feel as though your rights have been violated in any way, please contact a criminal defense lawyer. We can review your situation and make sure that your rights are protected. To set up a free consultation, contact our office today. We would love to help.
The Bill of Rights has been quoted from this website: http://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/billofrights