Sample Criminal Justice Research Paper on Constitutional Rights


     The USA criminal justice system is adversarial in nature. This litigation approach is more concerned with the evidence adduced by the prosecution and the defense to prove the innocence of an accused person as compared to finding the truth (Goodpaster, 1987). This criminal justice system can be regarded as one of the government’s most potent weapons. If harshly wielded, this weapon can cause great turmoil to citizens. This is because the government has tremendous resources at its dispensation including the judges who determine criminal matters. Therefore, the existence of the rights of an accused person as set out under the Bill of Rights acts as a shield to protect suspects and accused persons from unfair administration of justice during the criminal justice procedures.

The Four Elements of Arrest

     There are various stages that lead to the criminal prosecution of a suspect. Basically, the first step towards an accused person’s trial is his or her arrest. Interestingly, the word “arrest” is not used anywhere in the provisions of the Fourth Amendment (Learge, 1963). Yet, this is the most fundamental legal framework that safeguards the fundamental rights and freedoms of a suspect or an arrested person. An arrest refers to the lawful deprivation of a person’s freedom by an authorized officer of the law. There are four elements of an arrest of a suspect.

     The first element of arrest is intent. This ensures that the arresting officer has the intention to arrest an individual before obtaining his custody. He or she must verbally indicate this intention to the suspect. The second element is authority. The arrestee must have the authority to execute the arrest. This authority is derived from state statutes. Officers also have a right to arrest offenders in order to maintain peace and order in society. The third element of arrest is subjection. The subject of arrest must submit to the actual arrest. He may submit to the arrest willingly or the arresting officer might have to use actual force including the use of firearms to seize his person.  The fourth element of arrest is understanding. The arrestee has a duty to explain to the arrested person the reason for his arrest.

The Four Requirements for Search and Seizure with a warrant

     The concept of what constitutes a search was laid down in Katz v United States (Katz v. United States, 1967), where it was stated that a search was a reasonable intrusion of a person’s right to privacy. The law that guides the conduct of searches and seizures is found under the Fourth Amendment of the USA Constitution. These provisions basically exist to protect the freedom of an individual’s and their right to property. There are several requirements that must be met by an officer before requests for warrants of searches and seizures are granted.

Probable Cause

    This requirement is very crucial in issuing warrants of searches and seizures. The concept is, however, not defined by the Fourth Amendment nor by other related Federal legislation. Determining what constitutes a probable cause to issue a warrant is, therefore, left at the discretion of the issuing judge. In order for this requirement to be met, the deponent officer must establish that there is a probable cause to believe that the place being requested to be searched contains evidence that would prove the commission of an offense or that an offense is being committed in that premises. The test used in meeting this requirement is that of a reasonable prudent man.

Judicial Authority

     A search warrant must be issued by a judicial authority. Such a judicial officer also need to be neutral (Shadwick v City of Tampa, 1971). It is, therefore, a necessity for an officer requesting the issuance of the warrant to have a strong assumption that the judicial officer is completely detached from the issue at hand. This requirement prevents officers from conducting arbitrary searches and seizures. The judicial officer has a duty to determine whether a probable cause to issue a warrant has been established.


     An officer must specifically provide the particulars of an object or subject of a search and seizure warrant. This requirement prevents the generalization of items to be seized in a warrant of search. This requirement is held to a higher degree in matters that fall under the protection of the First Amendment as well as books. This means that the requesting officer has a duty to establish a higher probable cause warranting such a warrant compared to other matters. Such seizures cannot be justified if they are made inadvertently.


     The reasonableness clause is found under the Fourth Amendment. This requirement prevents arbitrary searches and seizures. It is, therefore, mandatory for the officer requesting to ensure that the warrant requested has a probable cause. Furthermore, officers also have the duty to execute a search and seizure warrant reasonably (Burke, 2016). They must at all times prevent invading a person’s rights unnecessarily.

The Plain View Doctrine

     The plain view doctrine operates as one of the exceptions to the requirement of a warrant before conducting searches and seizures. This doctrine plays a major role in bridging the gap between the utterance of a suspect and the actions of the police in response. The doctrine basically opens a wide avenue for the law enforcers to conduct seizures of incriminating items found with a suspect in the course of a lawful search. Three prerequisite conditions must be met in order to justify seizures without a warrant (Saylor, 2011).  First, the officer’s entry into the individual’s place must be lawful. Second, the items seized must be in the plain view of the officer. Thirdly, at the time of the items discovery, it must be apparent that they constitute evidence of the crime the suspect is alleged to have committed.

     However, the courts do not always find the determination of the appropriate application of the doctrine that easy. For example, in the course of conducting a search, a police officer may come across plain view evidence proving a suspect has committed other crimes. This is the predicament that faced the USA Supreme Court in Horton v. California (Horton v. California, 1990), where officers in the course of searching for narcotics in the suspect’s house came across documents that proved the suspects had been evading tax. The court, in this case, held that inadvertency was redundant in the application of this doctrine. It further held in order for the doctrine to apply, it was mandatory for the three pre-conditions to be met.

Various Means of Identifying Suspects

     There are various methods that law enforcement officers use in identifying suspects. These procedures are very crucial since sometimes the identification process is used as an investigative tool. This is more so, where a suspect is positively identified giving officers a probable cause for the commission of an offense by the suspect. This gives them an opportunity to request for a search warrant. One of the methods that the police uses to identify suspects is the use of photographs. This is mainly done in cases where witnesses already know the suspect. Such photographs also help the officers determine the age and legal identity of the individual.

     The police also use the live lineup method to identify suspects (Mu, Chung & Reed 2017). During this identification procedure, the police use at least five fillers. The suspect line up with the fillers and the witnesses have to physically identify him among the other individuals. This method, however, is less favored among law enforcers. This is because it is cumbersome coming up with suitable fillers to prevent prejudicing a suspect.

     Law enforcers also use the method of show-up (Cicchini & Easton 2010). This procedure involves an officer showing the witness an individual and asking them whether they recognize them. In order to use this identification method, the suspect must be arrested at close proximity to the scene of the crime. Additionally, the suspect needs to be arrested shortly after such a commission. Officers are therefore careful not to use the method after the lapse of two hours after a crime has been conducted.

Basic Constitutional Rights of the Accused during Trial

The Bill of Rights and all its amendments (The Bill of Rights and All Amendments, 1789) provides a wide range of rights to an accused person. Her accusatory justice system requires the judge to play a neutral role as a servant of the law. He or she has to hear both sides of the story before determining the matter. Such a decision is based on the evidence adduced by the prosecution and the defense. These rights include but are not limited to:

The Onus of Proof

     The first right that an accused person enjoys is the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty. Even though the term “beyond any reasonable doubt” is not used in the language of the Constitution, the same was held implied in the celebrated Supreme Case In re Winship (In re Winship, 1970), where it was held that to ensure fair treatment of the accused and due process, it was essential for the prosecution to prove his case against the accused beyond reasonable doubt. In order to dispense off with this burden, the prosecution has a duty to adhere to first, the provisions set under the Sixth Amendment. The Sixth Amendment provided the accused person with the right to be informed of the crime they are alleged to have committed and charged with. The crime must also be explained to the accused person as clear as possible.

     Second, the language of the Fifth Amendment provides that the prosecution has a duty to inform and provide the evidence he seeks to rely on in prosecuting the accused. However, this right does not extend to the prosecution. As a matter of fact, the accused person has a right against adducing self-incriminating evidence. This means that he may take “the Fifth” and choose not to answer questions that may incriminate him or even take the stand. The right to remain silent must also be made clear during the arrest of a suspect as was held in the landmark case of Miranda v Arizona (Miranda v. Arizona, 1966).

The Right to Legal Counsel

     This right is provided for under the Sixth Amendment. The accused may choose to represent himself or where he cannot afford a counsel, one is appointed for him. This sentiment was made in the celebrated case ofGideon v. Wainwright (Gideon v. Wainwright, 1963). Where the accused cannot afford to instruct a counsel, the state shoulders the burden of paying his legal fees.  In this case, the state has a duty to also provide the appointed counsel with the necessary financial resources needed to collect the required evidence. This is very important in order to help the cause of justice.

The Right to Confrontation

     The prosecution has the duty to call witnesses to testify against the accused in person. This allows the accused person the right to confront the witnesses in his defense. This right has its foundation in the Sixth Amendment that provides that an accused person has the right to be confronted by witnesses and that such witnesses must be obtained in accordance with the law.  An accused person has the right to call witnesses before the court to testify during his defense. Additionally, he has the right to adduce all necessary evidence that will help his case.


     The USA criminal justice system is adversarial or accusatory in nature where adversaries make their arguments to support their cases. The whole criminal justice system is thus governed by the Constitution and other statutes to promote justice for all concerned persons. Human rights found under the USA Bill of Rights are structured to protect suspects and accused persons from arbitrary and unfettered government officials’ actions. Well-structured provisions such as those governing searches and seizures act in a manner that limits the scope of a search and the powers of those executing such a warrant. Other rights such as those that guide the arrest of suspects also ensure that a certain criterion is followed for the arrest of a suspect to be regarded as lawful. In essence, every provision under the Bill of Rights plays a major role in protecting the rights and freedoms of the citizens as well as suspects and accused persons.


Burke, A. S. (2016). Consent Searches and Fourth Amendment Reasonableness. Florida Law Review, 67(2), 509-563. Retrieved from

Cicchini, M. D. & Easton, G. J. (2010). Reforming the Law on Show-up Identification. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 100(2), 381-413. Retrieved from

Mu, E. Chung, T. R, & Reed, I. L. (2017). Paradigm shift in criminal police Lineups: Eyewitness identification as a multicriteria decision making. International Journal of Production Economics, 184, 95-106. Retrieved from

Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963) (Supreme Court 1963).

Goodpaster, G. (1987). On the Theory of American Adversery Criminal Trial. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 78(1 Spring), 118-154.

Horton v. California, 496 U.S. 128, 130 (1990) (Supreme Court June 4, 1990).

In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358 (1970) (Supreme Court March 31, 1970).

Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967) (Supreme Court 1967).

Learge, R. M. (1963). The Fourth Amendment and the Law of Arrest. Journal of criminal law and criminology, 54(4), 393-420.

Miranda v. Arizona, , 384 U.S. 436 (1966) (Supreme Court 1966).      

Saylor, J. (2011). Computers as Castles: Preventing the Plain View Doctrine from Becoming a Vehicle for Overboard Digital Searches. Fordham Law Review, 79(6), 2812-2858.

Shadwick v City of Tampa, 407. U.S 443,449-51(1971) (1971).

The Bill of Rights and All Amendments. (1789). Retrieved from