Political and Civil Rights in the United States

Political and Civil Rights in the United States

Political and Civil Rights in the United States

Political and Civil Rights in the United States

Excerpt

The American people today are in broad agreement concerning the basic values and fundamental principles of a democratic society. But in the attempt to realize the common values and to apply the accepted principles sharp differences of opinion have arisen. This book undertakes to collect some of the materials relevant to one aspect of these problems of democracy in action. It deals with the operation of the vital mechanisms of the democratic process. Its aim is to throw light upon those institutions, rules and procedures of our society which keep the system functioning on a democratic level, which permit our people to solve their problems through the exercise of democratic choice, which, in short, form the ground rules for the practice of democracy.

The problems here treated flow immediately from practical application of the accepted principles. In a society based upon human dignity and the development of the individual personality, clearly all members are entitled to security of the person -- protection from bodily harm, involuntary servitude, and the fear of physical restraint. Yet in some areas of the nation, and for some groups in our society, this basic right is consistently or intermittently infringed. How is this problem to be met? What should the role of the Federal Government be? Is additional legislation necessary? How can our police and court systems be adjusted to guarantee effective protection?

Our tradition calls for the extension of various procedural safeguards to individuals who come into conflict with the law. We accept an accusatorial rather than an inquisitorial system of justice. Our theory is that the individual, pitted against the overwhelming power, prestige and resources of the government, is entitled to certain equalizing rights, even though some of the guilty escape as a result. These protections constitute a major portion of the Bill of Rightsembodied in our Constitution. But how far should the police go in seeking to extract a confession from a suspected prisoner? What is the extent of the right to counsel and how can it be assured in fact? What are the rights of the police to search for and seize evidence? Should their investigatory powers extend to tapping telephone wires or the use of similar devices for obtaining evidence? Where is the line to be drawn between protection of the individual and the right of society to solve its crime problem? And how can the courts . . .

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