What is the “right to counsel”? Defendants in a criminal court have a right to counsel that is protected by the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Under that amendment, accused parties in criminal proceedings are required to be granted the “assistance of counsel” in all prosecutions. This is the reason why public defenders exist—if the defendant is unable to retain a private attorney due to an inability to afford their services, the government will be required to appoint one at no cost to the defendant.
While most of the time people think of this “right to an attorney” as being for trials, it’s actually a right that suspects have throughout just about every phase of the criminal process, from arrest on through an appeal of a conviction. When read their Miranda rights, suspects are told they have the right to ask for an attorney, and to remain silent if questioned by police until their attorney arrives to guide them through the questioning.
Criminal attorney roles
The defense attorney plays a crucial part in the criminal process. If the possible outcomes of a case include incarceration, the defendant must rely on the attorney to either help them avoid that outcome or limit the length of time they could spend in jail.
Criminal attorneys will work with the defendant to advise them of their rights and protect those rights during the criminal process. Throughout the case, they will explain what happens and what to expect at each stage to keep the defendant as calm and comfortable as possible during what can be a whirlwind of stress and anxiety.
Criminal attorneys make sure law enforcement and court proceedings do not violate the rights of their clients. They also take an active role in negotiating plea deals with the government on behalf of the defendant, investigating the facts and evidence of the case and cross-examining any witnesses presented by the government. Simply put, they handle the entire defense aspect of the case.
Defendants don’t just have the right to legal counsel—they have the right to reasonably effective legal counsel, whether the attorney was hired by the defendant or appointed by the government for the case. In most cases, questionable strategies on the part of a defense attorney will not cause a conviction to be overturned. However, there are some circumstances in which clear incompetence affecting a case could result in the conviction being overturned and a new trial granted.
Public defenders tend to have massive caseloads, with limited resources to get all of their work done, which makes them more likely to push for plea bargains. Even with this in mind, they are still held to the same standards of professionalism and quality work as private attorneys.
To learn more about your right to counsel and the standards that exist for both private attorneys and public defenders, contact an experienced and trusted criminal defense lawyer in Lubbock, TX at the Law Office of Rob Biggers with any questions you have about your pending criminal case.
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