Legal definition of bill of rights
Freedom Of Information Legal Terminology

bill of rights

The first ten amendments to the federal Constitution demanded by several states in return for ratifying the Constitution, since the failure to protect these rights was a glaring omission in the Constitution as adopted in convention in 1787.

Adopted and ratified in 1791, the Bill of Rights are:

First: Prohibits laws establishing a religion (separation of church and state), and bans laws which would restrict freedom of religion, speech, press (now interpreted as covering all media), right to peaceably assemble and petition the government.

Second: A "well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." This is often claimed as giving the unfettered right of individuals to own guns, but is actually limited to the right of "the" people, meaning the body politic or the public as a group, to bear arms as militiamen

Third: No quartering of soldiers in private homes without the owner's consent.

Fourth: No unreasonable search and seizures, no warrants without probable cause, and such warrants must be upon "oath or affirmation" and describe the place to be searched or the person or things to be taken.

Fifth: Prohibits criminal charges for death penalty ("capital punishment") or any other "infamous" crime (felony) without indictment by a Grand Jury except under martial law in the time of war or "public danger"; no person may be tried twice for the same offense; no one may be compelled to be a witness against himself ("taking the Fifth")

No one can be deprived of life, liberty or property without "due process of law"; no taking of property for public use (eminent domain) without just compensation. These rights have become applicable to states through the 14th Amendment as well as state constitutions.

Sixth: Rights of criminal defendants to a speedy and public trial, impartial local jury, information on the nature and cause of accusation, confront witnesses against him, right to subpena witnesses, and have counsel.

Seventh: Juries may be demanded in civil cases (over $20) and the jury shall be trier of the fact in such cases as required by Common Law.

Eighth: No excessive bail, excessive fines or "cruel and unusual punishment."

Note that denial of bail in murder cases or when the accused may flee is not "excessive," and capital punishment (like the gas chamber) may be cruel but not necessarily unusual. inth: Stating these rights shall not be construed to deny that other rights are retained by the people.

Tenth: Powers given to the United States (central government) and not prohibited to the states, are reserved to the states or to the people
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