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What your 6th Amendment right to an attorney really means

On Behalf of | Aug 8, 2023 | Criminal Defense

Whether you have ever been arrested before or not, you probably know about the Miranda warning and how it includes some version of, “You have the right to an attorney.” This is one of the key individual rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights, and it goes beyond having a lawyer representing you at trial.

The right to an attorney in Illinois

The right to legal representation goes back to the Sixth Amendment, which says in part, “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right… to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.” This right originally applied to federal criminal matters only, but in a famous ruling from 1963, the Supreme Court found that under the 14th Amendment, the right to counsel applies to state-level proceedings too.

From the moment of your arrest until your case is resolved

This right begins the moment the police arrest you, which is why it is part of the Miranda warning. If the police start to interrogate you, you have the right to refuse to answer without a defense attorney present. This matters because having your lawyer in the room can help make sure the police don’t violate your rights, manipulate you into a false confession or make you give up any leverage you might possess. You and your lawyer can privately also discuss your case and what police questions you should answer at this point, if any.

Your right to an attorney also applies to:

  • Pretrial hearings
  • The trial itself
  • Sentencing

In between, you and your lawyer will work closely together to develop a strategy for dealing with the charges. Your attorney will investigate the claims against you and examine the evidence. Their advice will help you decide whether to negotiate a plea bargain, take the case to trial or seek a dismissal. Without an attorney’s help, most people would struggle to preserve their rights and fight for justice against the vast power and authority of the legal system.

Of course, you need a defense attorney with experience in the particular charges you are facing and someone you can get along with. Most defense attorneys offer free initial consultations to discuss your case and get to know them before you decide whom to hire.