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Right to Counsel

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  • Pages: 5
  • Word count: 1079
  • Category: Law

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The right to counsel is a right that is stated in the Constitution of the United States. The Sixth Amendment clearly states that the defendant has the right to counsel. The Sixth Amendment states, “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his or her defense.” (“Sixth Amendment”, 2012). This then means that a defendant has a constitutional right to be represented by an attorney during trial. It also means that if the defendant cannot afford an attorney, in almost all instances the government will appoint one to handle the case, at no cost to the defendant.

While the right to counsel is discussed, a suspect has the right to a lawyer at almost every important phase of the criminal process, typically from arrest through the first appeal after conviction. In order for the American criminal justice system to function properly, both the state and the defendant must be represented by knowledgeable and understanding attorneys. This is important mainly for the defendant since he or she is the one who will be facing the charges. Without effective representation the defendant risks jail or even death. The right to counsel was brought to us by English colonists who were simply following what they were previously taught. The only difference was the right to counsel was only available for some circumstances and not all cases. Most of the educated class believed that in all cases one should have the right to hire an outside attorney or in these days represent oneself. “If a person chooses to deny counsel and represent himself in court, he must be informed that defending himself is not merely a matter of explaining what happened.

He must also have some knowledge of court procedures, the ability to adequately examine and cross-examine witnesses and communicate his side of the story efficiently and effectively.” (“Right To Counsel Clause”, 2008-2012). Representing oneself was the most common form in criminal court cases in these days. “When a person takes advantage of the Right to Trial Clause guarantee to represent oneself in court, he is said to be representing himself pro se. Pro se is a Latin term meaning “for self.” If a person proceeds pro se in a court case, it is usually because either he is a lawyer himself, he believes he can adequately navigate the court system and represent himself well, or because he is for some reason unable to obtain a lawyer. People rarely proceed in a court case pro se because they cannot afford to hire an attorney, since most criminal cases allow a court appointed attorney.” (“Right To Counsel Clause”, 2008-2012). So if one decided to self-represent themselves they must know all of what they are getting themselves into.

It was not until the first half of the 1800’s where the defendant began to hire outside attorneys. “In a famous Supreme Court case called Powell vs. Alabama, in 1932 Justice George Sutherland wrote this very meaningful statement about the importance of the Right to Counsel Clause: “The right to heard would be, in many cases, of little avail if it did not comprehend the right to be heard by counsel. Even the intelligent and educated layman has small and sometimes no skill in the science of law. If charged with crimes, he is incapable, generally, of determining for himself whether the indictment is good or bad. He is unfamiliar with the rules of evidence. Left without the aid of counsel he may be put on trial without a proper charge, and convicted upon incompetent evidence, or evidence irrelevant to the issue or otherwise inadmissible. He lacks both the skill and knowledge adequately to prepare his defense, even though he has a perfect one. He requires that guiding hand of counsel at every step in the proceedings against him.

Without it, though he be not guilty, he faces danger of conviction because he does not know how to establish his innocence” (“Right To Counsel Clause”, 2008-2012). He had clearly agreed that one should always go with an outside attorney whether provided by oneself or if one is appointed by the government. Although the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution explains the right to have the assistance of counsel for his or her defense, this action was recognized before the Constitution came to be. At first the practice of the right to counsel was only provided to some and not all. Rules in a few states allowed for the right to counsel where defendants could not afford their own private lawyer. With this the criminal justice system realized that the right to counsel in criminal proceedings was so important; that it became a necessity and not a simple luxury.

This role lands in the hands and hearts of the adversary system. This system allows one to keep the check and balance, and guarantees due process and a speedy and public trial. The right to counsel is entirely important in almost every criminal case. Each and every attorney has specific roles and duties depending on the nature of the charges and the case itself. Some key responsibilities of any criminal defense lawyer are advising the defendant of his or her rights, ensuring that the defendant’s constitutional rights are not violated, negotiating an understandable bargain with the government, and investigating facts and evidence.

Advising the defendant of his or her rights includes explaining what to expect at different stages of the criminal process for the defendant. By ensuring the defendant’s constitutional rights they must do it through law enforcement conduct, or in court proceedings. A lawyer must be able to negotiate an understandable argument or bargain with the government on the defendant’s behalf to protect and allow the best for the defendant’s case. From arrest to sentencing, a lawyer must be able to investigate facts and evidence through cross-examining government witnesses, objecting to improper questions and evidence, and presenting any legal defenses that may arise.


Right to Counsel Clause. (2008-2012). Retrieved from http://www.revolutionary-war-and-beyond.com/right-to-counsel-clause.html Sixth Amendment. (2012). Retrieved from http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Sixth+Amendment

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