The rights of the accused consists of a collection of rules and statutes that protect a person accused of a civil or criminal offense. In many regions, these rights are clearly defined statutes worked into the fabric of the nation through constitutional decree, written laws, or legal precedent. The development of these rights has a long philosophical and legal history, and remains a controversial issue in the 21st century.
Giving rights to people accused of crimes is important for legal systems that base criminal justice on a presumption of innocence. This type of society places a high priority on the rights of citizens, by placing the burden of proof on the prosecution. By granting suspects a range of legal protections, a justice system can attempt to ensure that the rights of those not yet proven to be guilty of a crime are not infringed.
To ensure that legal proceedings are viewed as fair to both sides, the rights of the accused often include the assurance of legal counsel and the promise of a trial that meets all legal requirements. Since legal systems are complicated, it is considered extremely important to allow suspects access to a professional that understands the law, rather than asking those with no legal background to attempt to mount a legal defense. Generally, another right ensures that the ability to pay does not limit access to a lawyer; many legal systems have court-appointed lawyers that are paid by the governing body for services to suspects that cannot pay for private counsel.
Rights of the accused may also include regulations about how a suspect is treated during an investigation, before charges are filed. This includes the requirement for court-issued warrants to prevent unlawful search and seizure of private possessions. Some laws protect against certain forms of surveillance except in very specific circumstances. Many regions also insist that a person accused of a crime needs to be informed of his or her accusal promptly.
In a system that provides for protection of the accused, a citizen undergoing interrogation or who is accused of a crime is usually still entitled to certain rights. For instance, the use of physical torture or threats of violence is often prohibited. Some societies also insist that a suspect be formally charged and tried speedily, and that a suspect cannot be detained for longer than a few days without charges being filed.
The major area of controversy regarding the rights of the accused involves an ethical question of where to draw the line between reasonable protection and fair investigation. In the 21st century, some countries have created a special class of accused parties known as enemy combatants, which are both foreign born operatives and native citizens accused of planning or carrying out terrorist acts or crimes related to ongoing wars. Enemy combatants are frequently not granted the rights given to citizens charged with other crimes, though proponents of this distinction insist the harsher treatment is in the name of undermining enemy efforts to damage the state. Strict civil rights proponents, on the other hand, believe that any reduction of the rights of the accused is a violation of civil liberties and an attack on the established legal system.