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Your Right to Representation in Your Criminal Case Is a Vital Sixth Amendment Protection

Jeff Cole
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Partner at Zimmer, Duncan & Cole

If you are arrested for a crime, the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives you many important protections that you should not take for granted, including the right to a speedy trial, to an impartial jury, and to confront the witnesses against you. Another of these vital rights is your right to representation by an attorney. No matter what crime you have been charged with, the law governing your criminal case can be complicated, and you could have a number of procedural, constitutional, and other defenses that you need an experienced criminal defense attorney to help you raise. While these defenses may not always get the charges against you dismissed, they can be a powerful bargaining tool that can help you negotiate a good plea bargain for reduced charges and penalties.

What Does Your Right to Representation in Your Criminal Case Give You?

You have a right to an attorney under the Sixth Amendment once criminal proceedings have begun against you. This is in addition to your right to an attorney under the Fifth Amendment, which gives you the right to an attorney during any police questioning. The Sixth Amendment gives you the following protections:

  • You have a right to representation once you are formally charged with a crime.
  • Your right to an attorney continues from your arrest through your first appeal if you are convicted.
  • If you cannot afford an attorney, the court must appoint an attorney to represent you at no cost to you.

While your attorney’s duties will depend in part on your charges and the facts of your case, there are some crucial ways a criminal attorney can assist you in your case. These include the following:

  • Your attorney can explain your rights to you and what to expect during the different stages of your case.
  • Your attorney can protect your constitutional rights both while you are in police custody and during your court proceedings.
  • Your attorney can negotiate a plea agreement for you.
  • Throughout your court appearances, your attorney can investigate the facts of your case, cross-examine witnesses, object to any improper questions or evidence, and raise your legal defenses.

How to Get an Attorney Appointed to Represent You

If you cannot afford an attorney, you will need to ask the judge to appoint one for you. This rule applies if you are being charged with a misdemeanor or felony that could result in you being imprisoned. It also applies in juvenile delinquency cases. Important points to understand about the process include:

  • Your first chance to request an attorney will most likely be at your arraignment—your first court appearance—where the judge tells you the charges against you.
  • The judge will most likely require you to provide information regarding your finances before appointing an attorney. You may need to provide written proof of your financial situation.
  • The judge could appoint an attorney from the public defender’s office or a local criminal defense attorney panel.
  • If you earn some income and do not completely qualify for a court-appointed attorney, the judge could still appoint one but require you to reimburse the state for a portion of these expenses.

Your Right to Effective Counsel

Under the Sixth Amendment, you also have a right to effective counsel whether you retain an attorney at your own expense or the court appoints one for you. This does not entitle you to a perfect defense, but does give you a right to an attorney that is not incompetent or negligent. If this right is violated, it would violate the Sixth Amendment’s right to a fair trial, and your conviction could be reversed upon appeal. In determining that this right was violated, the following must be shown:

  • The attorney was deficient, and the errors he made were so serious that he did not represent you in the manner guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment.
  • Your lawyer’s performance unfairly prejudiced you, and the errors were so serious that you were wholly deprived of a fair trial.

If you were charged with a crime, you will need an experienced criminal defense attorney who understands all the defenses to your charges and is willing to fight for you. Check out our Case Results to learn how our experienced legal team has helped people like you and then start an online chat today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.


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