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The Right to an Attorney

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Do I Have the Right to an Attorney?

The Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees, among other things, the right to an attorney if a person has been arrested. This right assures that the person has a fair trial.

If the police wish to interrogate someone, they are required to read a suspect their Miranda Rights. As part of the Miranda warning, the police must tell that person that they have the right to an attorney.

What Does the Right to an Attorney Mean?

The Sixth amendment right to an attorney has been interpreted to mean that a lawyer must be present at any adversarial, critical stage of a criminal prosecution. A critical stage includes any:

Additionally, everyone has the right to be represented by counsel at trial, regardless of their ability to pay for legal services. The police are required to inform a suspect of the right to an attorney, and that an attorney will be provided for free if they cannot afford one. If that person is unable to afford a private defense attorney, the court will appoint a public defender.

What Services Can an Attorney Provide Me?

Although each case is different, an attorney will serve as a representative and legal translator. An attorney can, among other duties and services:

  • Advise a person of their rights
  • Help formulate a defense strategy
  • Ensure that a person do not incriminate themselves
  • Speak with witnesses

What If I Am Appointed a Public Defender?

If you are appointed a public defender, you generally don't have a choice which attorney represents you. Although everyone has the right to be represented by the attorney of his or her choosing, the practicality of scheduling conflicts and number of public defenders available effectively limits this right. If, however, a person finds they are truly unable to work with their appointed attorney then they should petition the court for a new one.

What If I Want to Represent Myself?

Just as everyone has the right to an attorney, we all have the right to self-representation. However, due to the nature and seriousness of a criminal conviction and record, it is advised that a person facing prosecution retain an attorney. In some cases, the court may deny the right of self-representation if the judge deems the defendant is unable to do so, due to mentally incompetence or a number of factors.

Contacting a Lawyer

If you are arrested, always ask for and insist on speaking to a criminal defense lawyer. It is your right to have one present. It would also be wise to remain silent until your lawyer arrives. If you can afford to pay for your own private attorney, or do not qualify financially for a public defender, you should start interviewing attorneys immediately.

Photo of page author Matthew Izzi

, LegalMatch Legal Writer and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 05-28-2015 03:04 PM PDT

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