Constitutional rights

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Updated: 4/13/2007 3:35 pm
The U.S. Constitution protects you from unjust detention or unfair treatment by the authorities in a number of ways. According to the Fourth Amendment, the police are not allowed to arrest you unless they have probable cause. This means that they must have good reason to suspect that a crime has taken place and that you committed it. The police are not allowed to conduct mass arrests or to detain suspects simply on the basis of a guess. The Fourth Amendment also limits the powers of the police to search you without probable cause, to enter your property without a warrant, or to seize or remove your property without probable cause. Search and seizure laws can be complicated to interpret, even for professionals, and the application of these laws is often the focus of debate. The Fifth Amendment protects your right not to incriminate yourself. Even if you're being interviewed after the police have arrested you, you have the constitutional right to remain silent if your answers may incriminate you. The Constitution also guarantees that you cannot be held in custody for an unreasonable period of time without being charged with a crime. Even when you've been formally charged, the Constitution limits the amount of bail that can be set by a judge. According to the Eighth Amendment, bail can't be excessive or be used as a form of punishment. However, in serious cases, the amount of bail is set high to ensure that the suspect remain in custody. The U.S. Supreme Court has not yet determined whether or not this type of preventive detention is constitutional.

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