Your Rights as a Criminal Defendant - Including Rights of Elderly Defendants with Dementia

As a criminal defendant, you are entitled to rights ensuring fair treatment and due process under the law. This includes special considerations for elderly defendants with dementia, who receive extra protections to ensure their condition does not compromise their legal rights or the fairness of proceedings.

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Your Rights as a Criminal Defendant - Including Rights of Elderly Defendants with Dementia
6 Min Read March 23rd, 2024

The clink of handcuffs closing around your wrists can jolt you into a stark reality, much like a scene from your favorite police procedural drama on TV. Suddenly, you're not just a viewer; you're the one being arrested and accused. As a criminal defendant, you brace for a loss of certain freedoms, but what about your legal rights? Rest assured, even in this unexpected plot twist, the Constitution ensures that certain rights remain your steadfast co-stars.

Because of this, understanding your legal rights is crucial. Your rights help protect you at the start of and during your criminal case. Knowing your legal rights can help your attorney successfully plead your case. What are your legal rights? 

How do these rights change for an older loved one who may have dementia if they are charged with a criminal offense? The Marshall Project reports that arrests of people over 65 have grown significantly, nearly 30%, between 2000 and 2020. A growing number of older adults are entering the criminal justice system. There is a lack of training for police officers in dealing with dementia patients. This can lead to misunderstandings and potentially unnecessary arrests.

Your elderly family members have rights. Families need to know these rights if their older relatives face legal issues. In the United States, everyone is entitled to certain rights, regardless of age, even after arrest.

Your Rights as a Criminal Defendant 

Regardless of your criminal charges, the United States Constitution guarantees everyone specific rights. Each state has a constitution that may afford you additional rights. 

Unlawful Search and Seizure Protection

The Fourth Amendment protects your right against unlawful search and seizure. This means law enforcement officials can only search your property after obtaining your consent, presenting a warrant, or proving probable cause. 

If law enforcement doesn't meet one of these standards, any evidence collected In a search may be inadmissible. This means the evidence can't be used against you since your Fourth Amendment rights are violated.

When it comes to probable cause, this statute can be confusing. Some examples of when probable cause can apply include a search of your vehicle if you're pulled over committing a traffic offense. If the officer suspects the vehicle may contain illegal items, this may be grounds for a probable cause search. 

The same can apply if you're detained by officers in your home. A search of your property may be legally permissible.

You Have the Right to Remain Silent

Chances are you're at least familiar with your Miranda Rights, which you have heard on many TV cop shows and movies. Miranda Rights are a long statement the arresting officer must read to any criminal defendant at the time of their arrest. Failing to advise someone of their Miranda Rights can be grounds for a case dismissal. 

So, what are your Miranda Rights? You have the right to legal representation and, more importantly, the right to remain silent. Included in your Miranda Rights is the statement that anything you say can and probably will be used against you.

Here's the standard Miranda rights script used by law enforcement in the United States:

You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to talk to an attorney and have him or her present with you while you are being questioned. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you. Do you understand these rights?

  • The wording may vary slightly depending on the jurisdiction.
  • The officer should ensure the suspect understands their rights before continuing with questioning.
  • If the suspect waives their rights, the officer should obtain a clear and voluntary waiver on camera or documented in writing.

Your Miranda Rights protect you from making incriminating statements that can help strengthen law enforcement's case against you.

Protection From Cruel or Unusual Punishment

While this legal right is rarely violated, it can occasionally happen. This right ensures law enforcement can't violate your human rights. For example, you can't be denied access to basic necessities like food and water. You also can't be subjected to torture or punishments that are degrading. Since cameras are present in detention units, violations of this right are extremely rare.

However, if you feel you're being subjected to cruel or unusual punishment while incarcerated, it's best to immediately notify your legal representative.

Additional Rights as a Criminal Defendant

The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution also addresses your legal rights as a criminal defendant. You have the right to legal representation. 

If you can't afford to hire an attorney, the courts have the responsibility of ensuring that you have adequate representation. This typically means being represented by a public defender familiar with criminal law.

You also have the right to a speedy trial, which means your case can't drag on unresolved for years. You also have the right to confront any witnesses. This doesn't mean you can argue with any witnesses. Instead, your attorney has the legal right to cross-examine them during your trial. This allows your attorney to ask the witnesses questions and potentially disprove their statements.

Steps to Take if You Believe Your Rights Have Been Violated

Since you're guaranteed specific rights as a criminal defendant, you have legal options if you believe your rights are violated. If law enforcement violates your rights, let your attorney know immediately. 

You may also want to contact the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). They have a department dedicated to addressing criminal rights violations. You can find the contact information for the FBI online. You can also file a complaint with the Department of Justice.

As mentioned earlier, you should contact an attorney as soon as possible. You still have legal rights even though you're being charged with a criminal offense. Remember to remain silent and request an attorney. 

Due Process and Dementia: Navigating the Criminal Justice System with Cognitive Impairment

The American criminal justice system is built on the idea of due process, guaranteeing a fair trial and protecting the rights of the accused. However, for individuals with dementia or other cognitive impairments, navigating this system can be particularly challenging. Age and disability can raise complex questions about a defendant's competency to stand trial and their ability to understand the charges against them.

One of the most fundamental rights of a criminal defendant is the right to a competent attorney. This right ensures the defendant has a fair chance at defending themselves. However, for someone with dementia, the ability to effectively communicate with their lawyer, understand the legal strategy, and participate in their own defense can be significantly impaired. According to a report by the American Bar Association, "A Matter of Intent: A Social Obligation to Improve Criminal Procedures for Individuals with Dementia," courts often appoint a guardian ad litem, someone who advocates for the defendant's best interests in such cases.

The question of competency to stand trial is another crucial aspect. A defendant is considered competent if they can understand the nature of the charges against them and assist their lawyer in their defense. If a defendant is found incompetent, the trial is typically delayed until their competency is restored. However, restoration is often unlikely for dementia patients. The National Registry of Institutions (NRI) emphasizes this challenge in its report, "Persons Living with Dementia in the Criminal Legal System." This can leave the court with difficult choices, such as dismissal of charges, civil commitment, or alternative sentencing options.

The legal process for someone with dementia requires sensitivity and adaptation. Judges may need to adjust the pace of proceedings, allow for breaks, and utilize simpler language. Expert evaluations from neuropsychologists can play a vital role in determining competency and understanding the defendant's cognitive limitations.

Protecting the rights of vulnerable individuals requires a nuanced approach within the criminal justice system. As the population ages and dementia rates rise, ensuring a fair and just process for defendants with cognitive impairments will become an increasingly critical issue.

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About the Author

Jacob Thomas is a part-time writer who focuses on health, wellness, and retirement topics, including aging, caregiving, insurance, and long-term care. His writing serves as a means to delve into his interests and provide valuable information for those dealing with aging parents and preparing for their own future and retirement plans.

LTC News Contributor Jacob Thomas

Jacob Thomas

Contributor since August 10th, 2023

Editor's Note

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