Why does the U.S. Constitution spend so much time protecting criminals? Part 1

The fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth amendments to the Constitution are to protect those accused of crimes. Part 1 will explore the fourth and fifth amendments.

The first amendment (freedom of speech, press, religion and assembly) and the second amendment (right to bear arms) usually get the most attention in the media. The fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth amendments to the U.S. Constitution are to protect those accused of crimes. That is half of the Bill of Rights! Why do you think so many amendments of the Bill of Rights are to protect those accused of crimes? Why do they get so little attention today?

The following questions are meant to have a good discussion with youth about personal rights. This activity can be done within a family, as part of school activities, a 4-H club or with any group working with young people. Encourage a robust dialogue about these issues, and encourage young people to find data to back up their opinions. During the discussion, try to limit interjecting your own opinions and let the youth discuss it among themselves.

How do you think the early times of the United States were different for criminals or those accused of crimes compared to today? How do you think the law enforcement and court systems was different? Do you think the relevance of these rights have changed over time?

Have you ever been accused of something? How does that feel? Have you ever been accused of something you didn’t do?

The fourth amendment states, “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.”

A simplified summary of this might be, “The police can’t look through your stuff without a pretty good reason.”

Why do you think this amendment exists? Some people interpret this amendment as a right to privacy. Do you think the amendment should cover electronic information and communication? If you aren’t doing anything wrong, what do you have to be afraid of?

When should the government have a right to search your property? Do you think this amendment ever hinders law enforcement’s ability to catch criminals?

The fifth amendment states, “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 offence 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.”

A simplified summary of this might be, “For big crimes, a Grand Jury has to determine if you will go on trial. You can’t be put on trial twice for the same thing. You don’t have to say anything bad about yourself if you don’t want to.”

“Pleading the fifth” is often used to say you don’t have to talk when you believe something might incriminate you. Why do you think this is in our Constitution? This amendment is also where the “Miranda Rights” come from; the famous, “You have the right to remain silent…”.

Do you think those being arrested understand what that means during an intense police situation?

We will continue this “Why does the U.S. Constitution spend so much time protecting criminals? Part 2.”

Hopefully these questions will get some good discussion going about personal rights. If you have some great ideas, share them with your local county, city or township, or your state or federal legislators.

To learn about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth leadership, citizenship and service and global and cultural education programs, read our 2016 Impact Report: “Developing Civically Engaged Leaders.” Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways Michigan State University Extension and Michigan 4-H have positively impacted individuals and communities in 2016, can be downloaded from the MSU Extension website.

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