I am sure that you have the heard the following phrase on television and in movies: “You have the right to an attorney . . . ,” but what does that really mean? Do you get an attorney for every situation - no matter what the crime or how severe the penalty may be?The Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides for a criminal defendant the right to have an attorney.
The Sixth Amendment calls for “assistance of counsel” for the accused “in all criminal prosecutions.” According to this statement, an individual who is a defendant in a criminal case, has a constitutional right to be represented by an attorney during the course of the trial.
In addition to the right to have an attorney represent you at trial, if the criminal defendant cannot afford his own attorney, the government shall appoint one who will take the case. This will be at no cost to the defendant. Keep in mind that court appointed attorneys are often over-worked and are forced to juggle a heavy case load. While these attorneys are generally capable of handling these cases, they are just simply unable to give their full attention to each and every case.
Further, the right to counsel includes all important stages of the criminal process. This involves the time of arrest and through an initial appeal if convicted. Issues may arise when courts are forced to interpret the Sixth Amendment and its overall scope. As can be expected, some courts will deem the right to be quite broad, while others have determined the right to be more narrow. However, a common interpretation is that the defendant shall receive “effective assistance of counsel.”
In this case, it does not matter if the attorney is hired by the defendant, himself or if the attorney has been court appointed. If a client is unhappy with his attorney because of his handling of the case and argues that he was not given “effective counsel,” the client will have to meet a high burden of proof to make his case. A client must show that, had it not been for the attorney's incompetence, the outcome of the case would have been different.
So, an attorney is expected to provide effective counsel to a criminal defendant, but what exactly does a lawyer do? In very general terms, an attorney is expected to provide the following to a criminal defendant-client:
- Advise the client of his rights and ensure those rights are protected
- Explain the different stages of the criminal process
- Be willing to explore potential plea bargains
- Engage in proper discovery and other pretrial processes
- Act on behalf of client through appropriate examination of witness, object to improper actions taken by the prosecution, and present any available defenses
Being charged with a crime in California is a undoubtedly a difficult situation. It is often times confusing and overwhelming. You have the right to be represented by effective counsel who will advocate on your behalf and ensure your rights are being protected.