The Right to Have an Attorney

Attorney Marsh
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I have the right to have an attorney. Where does that come from?

Your right to have an attorney (at least in criminal cases) comes from the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article 1 Sec. 10 of the Texas Constitution. Similar to your Fifth Amendment Right to Remain Silent, this amendment is jam packed. Take a peek:

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 defence. – Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution

Despite the fact that your right to have an attorney seems pretty clear, it wasn’t always that way. There is a famous U.S. Supreme Court case called Gideon which first announced the Constitutional Right to have an attorney in criminal cases for those who can’t afford one. Just remember, you have the right to have an attorney – but not the best attorney.

Why is the right to have an attorney important?

The right to have an attorney during your criminal case is very important for many reasons. First, it’s very important to have someone guide you through the process who is knowledgeable about what’s going on. This can give you more peace of mind that you’re getting the best defense possible. In addition, a lawyer can evaluate your case and isn’t as emotionally involved in the case as you are. Don’t worry, that is a good thing. Why? Because they can look closely into your case without being swayed by details that may not be as important.

Second, as far as your defense goes, there are many defenses available to your case if you know what to look for. For example, you may have been drugged, someone may have threatened you with harm, self defense, etc… Having an experienced lawyer can help put your best possible defense forward. Also, there may be holes in the State’s case against you. Here in Texas, as with every other state, there are steps police have to follow when they search you or your car. Illegal searches of cars can take some of the strongest evidence out of the State’s hands. What does that mean? Their case can collapse before their eyes. This can work heavily in your favor, as long as you know what to look for.

You want someone by your side who knows the procedure. Knowledge of the Court’s procedure can make your case go much more smoothly. Imagine that you’re fighting a battle and you’re the one in charge. Experience has taught you what to look out for. This includes knowing your strengths and looking for the other side’s weaknesses. You want to spend time, money, or effort on things that have the greatest chance of paying off in your favor.

When do I have the right to have an attorney?

The right to have an attorney kicks in when you have been charged with a crime. If the police question you, you don’t have to talk to them. You can insist that you speak to a lawyer before answering any questions. I would follow that advice. Once charges have been put against you by police, your right to have an attorney begins. It’s very important to remember that you MUST INSIST on speaking with your lawyer once you’ve been charged with a crime. Listen to me on this one – YOU CAN’T FLIP FLOP. You either want a lawyer or you don’t. I suggest you ask for your lawyer and don’t say another word – whether you’re arrested or just being questioned. The answer is the same – I want to speak with my lawyer.

 What if I can’t afford a lawyer?

In Texas, as with other states, if you can’t afford a lawyer, a Court appointed lawyer will beassigned to you by the Court. Your freedom is onthe line when you’re charged with a crime. Depending on what the crime was, you may receive between 6 months – Life in Prison.

Right to Have an Attorney However, like I said above, you aren’t necessarily going to get THE BEST lawyer, you’re simply allowed a lawyer who takes criminal cases. It’s luck of the draw. And no, you can’t stick your hand in the bag 1, 5, or 10 times until you get just the one you want. In my experience, you may have conflicts with your Court appointed lawyer and get a new one, maybe a second as well. However, you don’t want to find fault with every lawyer you have. Conflicts are unavoidable but try your best to get along. If you truly want to hire your own lawyer, make sure that you focus on the value and not simply the cost. You don’t want your lawyer like you want your burger – good, fast, and cheap. After all, it’s your life we’re talking about here. Now isn’t the time to penny pinch.

Summary

Having a lawyer by your side in your criminal case is your best bet. Don’t go it alone. You have the Constitutional right to have an attorney if you can’t afford one. If you want to pick your own lawyer, then you’ll need to hire one privately. Either way, someone who knows about the process and can put your best defense forward. It’s your life and criminal charges are serious. Get the help you need, when you need it.