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The Bill of Rights Allison Barnette CMS American History
How did we get the Bill of Rights? The Constitution was signed by the delegates in Philadelphia on September 17, 1787(Constitution Day), but all the states did not ratify the document until May of 1790. Federalists and Antifederalists agreed that basic rights each citizen should expect would be added to the Constitution immediately after it was ratified. The Bill of Rights was ratified a year and a half later by ¾ of the states December 15, 1791. These first 10 Amendments or changes to the Constitution are known as the Bill of Rights.
You may notice that each of the rights expressed in the first 10 Amendments are freedoms that American citizens felt were threatened under British rule. For example, some rights that were taken away by the Intolerable Acts were among the first mentioned: The right to peaceably assemble and the right to not have soldiers quartered in their homes were in the first and third amendments. As you read the Bill of Rights, reflect on the reasons that citizens of that time felt these were the most important rights of citizens, and think about how these rights are still important today.
Amendment One Amendment One is often called the Amendment of Expression. It includes 5 parts: Speech Press Religion Assembly Petition Although the ideas of each of these are not controversial in themselves, we do run across times in which our own rights might be restricted in order to observe the rights of others. For instance, our right to free speech is not protected if we yell, “Fire!” in a crowded theater when there is no fire. In that case we are endangering the lives of others unnecessarily. There are many ongoing discussions and court cases about this Amendment. As our nation becomes more diverse, we want to preserve our freedom of expression while being sensitive to the rights of others to have that same freedom. No doubt you can think of at least one example of this.
Amendment Two There is a right to keep and bear arms. This has become one of the most controversial issues of our time. When the Founding Fathers created the amendment, they were mindful of a tyrannical government from which they needed to be able to protect themselves. Hopefully, if such a tyrannical government should arise against us, it would never again be our own. Yet, several questions arise about an individual citizen’s freedom to keep and bear arms in a time when weapons are so advanced. One side says that guns do not kill, people kill. The other side says that if weapons were not so easily available, incidents of mass shootings would be greatly reduced. Due to recent events, it has become a heated discussion, and we can look for new state and federal laws to emerge.
Amendment Three Soldiersare not housed in the homes of the people. You may not think of this so much, but you can bet this was fresh on the minds of our Founding Fathers!
Amendment Four Searchand seizure of property can only be performed with probable cause, and a warrant should be issued. How many TV shows and movies have you watched wherein the officer tells the suspect he is there to search the home, and the suspect asks, “Do you have a warrant?” There are some times when a warrant is not needed, such as when a highway patrolman suspects that a driver is transporting drugs in a car. That is probable cause, and there is reasonable expectation that an officer can check a vehicle that can impact the safety of others.
Amendment Five Amendment Five has three main parts: 1) No double jeopardy. You cannot be tried for the same capital crime more than once. For instance, the famous football player and actor O. J. Simpson went on trial in 1995 for killing Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman. He was found not guilty. The police “chase” and ensuing trial were watched by millions on television, and most people had an opinion as to his guilt or innocence. If, all of these years later, information surfaced that would prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that he murdered these people, he could not be charged with the same exact crime. However, what if someone is found innocent of a crime, and he or she is in fact innocent? Doesn’t it make sense that the person would not have to endure the heartache and embarrassment of another trial?
Amendment Five 2) No Self-incrimination. You do not have to testify about yourself in a court of law unless it is a Grand Jury or a military trial. There was a case in 1990 of a teen mom accused of murdering her infant child. In his arguments to the jury, the District Attorney suggested that because the girl did not take the stand to claim her innocence, she should be found guilty. The jury did find her guilty, but the decision was overturned on appeal, and the girl was acquitted and released from prison.
Amendment Five 3) Due Process. No one can deprive you of life, liberty, or property without due process of the law. Remember habeas corpus? No one can hold you without arrest. It also ensures, just as with the young lady in the previous example, that there are rights of appeal. Plus, it criminalizes vigilante justice. Private property cannot be taken for public use without proper compensation. This is often referred to as eminent domain. For instance, if a proposed new interstate would cut across your land, you have to be paid fair market value for it.
Amendment Six Amendment six is the right of the accused to have a speedy trial and to have defense counsel. You often hear an arresting officer on TV read their (Miranda)rights: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.” That’s Amendment Five, not incriminating yourself. “You have a right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.” That’s Amendment Six. Also, an accused person should not have to be kept waiting indefinitely for his or her day in court, since you are innocent until proven guilty.
Amendment Seven There is a right to trial by jury in a civil case, if the amount involved is $20 or more. Civil cases are usually lawsuits involving individuals, companies, or government entities. For instance, you might not want a jury trial for a divorce proceeding, but you might want a public jury trial if you are suing a large corporation for damages. In that case, you would want the sympathy of your peers to direct the judgment.
Amendment Eight Amendment Eight has two parts: 1) Excessive Bail. While the accused is awaiting trial, an amount of money that helps ensure that you will return for your court date may be imposed. This fee (bail)must reasonably be adjusted for the crime for which you are accused and how much you can be trusted to show up on that day. Your bail may be high if you are a repeat offender or if the alleged crime is more serious. For example, someone arrested for murder would have a higher bail than someone arrested for shoplifting. Bail is expected not to be so much that a person cannot attain it if the crime is not as serious.
Amendment Eight 2) Cruel and Unusual Punishments. The meaning of this amendment has changed over the years. While hanging might have been considered proper punishment for murder a hundred years ago, we consider it a cruel and unusual punishment today. Likewise, other methods of producing death, like the electric chair and the gas chamber have also come under scrutiny. In fact, whether to impose the death penalty at all is quite controversial. There has been a short period of time in which it was outlawed entirely. Also, as with the idea of a reasonable bail, we also have the idea that terms of imprisonment should fit the crime for which one has been convicted.
Amendment Nine There are other individual rights. The Founding Fathers did not want to leave the impression that the preceding amendments were ALL of the rights a person could expect; they wanted to be clear that there are more freedoms, but we just do not list all of them.
Amendment Ten There are rights reserved to the individual states. This has become an issue many times since our country’s founding. How much power does a state have to stand up to a federal law with which it disagrees? Can states make laws that seem to go against existing federal laws? Long ago, there were struggles over slavery. Now, there are federal laws governing the way states provide services, and states disagree. Also some states are making laws, such as the ones allowing marijuana use, and this goes against federal laws which outlaw it.