Student Reader

Applying the Bill of Rights to the States

The Bill of Rights was created to put limits on the power of the national government. Initially, its provisions did not apply to states. Under the Fourteenth Amendment, however, nearly all of the items in Bill of Rights have gradually been extended to all levels of government. The Fourteenth Amendment guarantees people due process of law. The Court has interpreted this provision to mean that, in criminal proceedings, defendants in both state and national cases must be told about their constitutional rights, including their right to remain silent and their right to an attorney. The Court still allows jury size in trials to vary from state to state, however. The right to an attorney is considered fundamental, while the right to trial by a jury of a certain size is not. In one of the important cases of 2000, the court reaffirmed that Miranda had a constitutional rule, which Congress could not undermine through legislation. The Fourth Amendment provides people with freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. The exclusionary rule, which disallows the use of evidence obtained illegally, helps to ensure this right, though this rule has been weakened in recent years. Interpretation of the exclusionary rule continues to divide the Court and serves as an example of the conflict between freedom and order.

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