Bill of Rights

AuthorJeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps

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A declaration of individual rights and freedoms, usually issued by a national government.

A list of fundamental rights included in each state constitution.

The first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1791, which set forth and guarantee certain fundamental rights and privileges of individuals, including freedom of religion, speech, press, and assembly; guarantee of a speedy jury trial in criminal cases; and protection against excessive bail and CRUEL AND UNUSUAL PUNISHMENT.

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A sample motion for bill of particulars

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As a fundamental guarantee of individual liberty, the U.S. Bill of Rights (see appendix volume for primary document) forms a vital aspect of American law and government. It establishes many legal principles that have had a decisive effect upon law and society, including the functioning of the criminal justice system, the separation of church and state, and the exercise of FREEDOM OF SPEECH.

The concept of a bill of rights as a statement of basic individual freedoms derives in part from the English Bill of Rights, passed in 1689 (see appendix volume for primary document). This document, which was created after the Glorious Revolution of 1688, established the terms by which William and Mary were accepted as king and queen of England. It forbade the monarchy to suspend laws, raise taxes, or maintain an army without consent of Parliament. It also declared that freedom of speech in Parliament could not be challenged, protected those accused of crimes from "excessive bail" and "cruel and unusual punishments," and provided a number of other privileges and freedoms (1 Will. & Mar., Sess. 2, C. 2).

Nearly a century later, seven of the 13 states of the newly independent United States of America adopted a bill of rights as part of their state constitutions, and the remaining six included elements of the English Bill of Rights in the bodies of their constitutions. Virginia, the first state to adopt a bill of rights, passed the VIRGINIA DECLARATION OF RIGHTS in 1776. Drafted largely by GEORGE MASON, Virginia's declaration became a model for later state bills of rights and ultimately for the federal Bill of Rights, and it remains a part of that state's constitution.

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At the Constitutional Convention of 1787, the Framers of the U.S. Constitution used the English Bill of Rights and state bills of rights as resources as they sought to...

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