What rights does the 6th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution give you? When do you have the right to counsel, and what does that even mean?
Thanks to the mega-popularity of police dramas and investigative TV shows, most Americans have some idea that they “have the right to remain silent” during any police encounter. What most people don’t realize however, is the power of the rest of the Miranda rights – the warning that police are legally obligated to give you whenever they detain you. One of the most important rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution is the right to counsel or the right to a defense attorney during any criminal investigation or trial. This concept seems pretty straightforward, but it does actually involve some pretty specific considerations: how would you invoke your right to an attorney, when can you invoke your right to an attorney, and why would you invoke the right to an attorney?
HOW DO I INVOKE THE RIGHT TO AN ATTORNEY?
Obviously, the most practical thing to learn is exactly how you would invoke the right to an attorney if you ever encountered a criminal investigation or trial. Above all, just remember that the police are very likely not on your side – even if they come off as friendly or even if they are more interested in another suspect. Sure, the police are obligated to tell you that you have the right to remain silent, that anything you say can and will be used in court against you, that you have the right to an attorney, and that if you cannot afford an attorney, you will be provided one by the state.
However, it is your obligation to clearly and unequivocally let the police know that you are invoking your right to an attorney. That is, you should let police know immediately that you wish to have an attorney present right now before they proceed any further. It is not the police’s duty to ask clarifying questions if your request is unclear and it is also not their duty to ask you if you’d like to have an attorney present. If you are interacting with adversarial criminal proceedings in any way, you shouldn’t expect to be asked if you want to speak with your lawyer or wait until they read you your Miranda rights. Anytime you have the right to a lawyer, you should probably invoke that right – but exactly when do you have that right?
WHEN DO I HAVE THE RIGHT TO A LAWYER?
So far, we’ve said that you should assertively invoke your right to a lawyer during any part of an adversarial criminal proceeding – a criminal proceeding that could possibly end up with you facing punishment for a criminal charge. Of course, this is a bit broad, so remember that all of the following are considered critical stages in criminal proceedings:
- physical examination
- criminal trials
- parole decisions
- prison disciplinary hearings
Some of these situations, like criminal trials, obviously call for legal assistance, but in other situations, you may not realize you should probably have an experienced attorney by your side. For example, during lineup and other physical identification situations, having an attorney present will help prevent many kinds of intentional and unintentional errors that would make your case more difficult than it has to be. Even if you have not be prosecuted or charged with anything, you have the right to an attorney during any custodial interrogation. A custodial investigation is any situation in which you are not free to leave while the police question you about a crime – the rule of thumb is that if you feel like you’re not free to leave, you should invoke your right to an attorney.
WHY CAN AN ATTORNEY OFFER YOU?
While you have the right to represent yourself in any criminal proceeding, an experienced criminal defense attorney will probably have a better shot at fulfilling your best legal interests. A good defense lawyer will be able to use his or her knowledge of federal, state, and local laws and courts to help you exercise rights you may not know of, to help you make decision that will strengthen your case, to help you make sure you do not say or do anything that will incriminate you, and to speak to witnesses, officers, and other attorneys on your behalf.
If you have been arrest for or charged with a crime, or even faced questioning, exercise your right! The Texas criminal defense attorneys at The Kyle Law Firm would be happy to provide you a complete free case assessment on any criminal case – contact us today to schedule your free consultation.