When watching movies or television crime shows, you usually hear the police officer tell a suspect in handcuffs that he or she has certain rights. One of those rights is to an attorney. The government doesn’t make this offer out of a generous spirit.
The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees you the right to have an attorney when it comes to criminal proceedings. Of course, nothing is quite that simple when it comes to the law.
There’s more to the story
A 1963 U.S. Supreme Court ruling solidified the right for those who could not afford to hire an attorney. This highlights the importance that the framers of the Constitution placed on you having every opportunity to defend yourself against criminal charges. Your right to counsel does not only mean at trial. From the moment a police officer places you under arrest, you may exercise this right.
Your intent to invoke your right to an attorney should probably be one of the last things you say to police. Once you do, no law enforcement official may question you before you have the chance to talk to an attorney. This means that when you invoke your right in front of one officer, another cannot come in and start questioning you without counsel.
The court also made rulings that guarantee that your right includes the assistance you receive from counsel is effective. However, just because a prosecutor secures a conviction against an individual, it does not mean that his or her attorney wasn’t effective. The circumstances must meet certain requirements in order for that to be the case.
What should an attorney do for you?
At a minimum, a criminal defense attorney must provide you with the following as part of your representation:
- Protect your Constitutional rights throughout the process
- Let you know your rights and what to expect from the process
- Investigate witnesses and facts
- Object to improper evidence and questions
- Cross-examine witnesses
- Present any legal defenses
- Negotiate plea bargains on your behalf
Most criminal defense attorneys can meet these requirements, but some are better at doing so than others are. The sooner in the process that you take this step, the better off you may be as time goes by. When you find yourself in a situation in which you need to exercise your Sixth Amendment rights, you may want to be sure that you find the right person to advocate on your behalf.