The Los Angeles Criminal Law Blog

You Have the Right to an Attorney, but What Does That Mean?

If you've been accused of a crime, you know you have a right to an attorney. That's all well and good, but what exactly do you get according to this right?

The Sixth Amendment, which provides the right to counsel, doesn't really go into detail about what you get as part of your legal representation. But years of judicial history have clarified what this right entails if find yourself on trial.

What's that you say? You haven't read the dry and dusty legal casebooks that contain these interpretations? We wouldn't expect it, so here's your cheat sheet.

The Right to an Attorney Technically Starts Before You're Arrested

Some people say the right to an attorney begins when your Miranda rights are read to you, which typically coincides with your arrest. But that's not necessarily true.

The right to counsel actually kicks in as soon as a custodial interrogation starts. That means anytime police are questioning you and you aren't free to go, you have a right to have an attorney present.

Officers are supposed to arrest you before they detain and question you, but just because that didn't happen doesn't mean you don't get an attorney.

The Right to Counsel Continues Even After Your Trial Ends

You have a right to an attorney for any trial-related procedures, including a pretrial hearing, right up until the jury makes its decision. You also have a right to an attorney in your sentencing hearing if you're convicted. But that's not where it ends.

In California, you're allowed to appeal your conviction and the right to an attorney extends to the first post-conviction appeal. After that, you can hire your own attorney, but one won't be provided if you can't afford it.

How to Make It Work

The Sixth Amendment requires that you invoke your right to an attorney. That means you need to speak up and say you'd like to have your attorney present.

If you can't afford one, tell the police and they'll determine if you qualify for a public defender. Then make sure you take your attorney's advice if you want the best outcome.

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