Know your rights : You are entitled to a fair hearing

March 21, 2017
In this 2014 photo, a man is being arrested by the police for allegedly committing a crime.

If you are charged with a criminal offence, you are entitled to a fair hearing within a reasonable time. Your case should be heard by a court that is independent and impartial. The court must be established by law and the proceedings are to be open to the public.

A court can, however, determine that the proceedings of a case should not be heard in public. Some situations that may require the court to make that decision include:

• Where publicity would prejudice the interests of justice. For example, in a case where there is trial by jury, publicity could influence the jury one way or the other.

• The need to protect the interests of defence, public safety, public order and public morality;

• The need to protect the welfare of children; that is, those under the age of 18 years;

• The need to protect the private lives of persons who are interested parties in the proceedings;

• Appeal proceedings under any law relating to income tax.

If you are arrested, the arresting officer is required by law to tell you as soon as possible the nature of the offence for which you are charged. He/she must do so in a language that you understand. You are presumed to be innocent until you are proved guilty by a court of law, or you plead guilty.

The law permits you to defend yourself in person or by a legal representative of your choice. As soon as possible after you have been charged, ask for the duty counsel to attend at the police station. Every police station is required to have the list of lawyers who serve as duty counsel for the parish as well as their contact numbers.

You or your legal representative have the right to call witnesses who can testify on your behalf under the same conditions as those applying to witnesses called by the prosecution. The witnesses for both the defence and the prosecution may be cross-examined.

You cannot be tried twice for a criminal offence for which you have been either convicted or acquitted, unless a superior court has ordered a retrial.

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