Right to an Attorney

     The Sixth Amendment guarantees “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right . . . to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.”  This right exists to ensure defendants receive essential legal advice and guidance when facing the possible loss of their liberty.  Considering the complexity and severity of our criminal justice system, it would be incredibly unfair for a defendant to stand alone and uninformed while opposed by savvy prosecuting attorneys.  The assistance of a defense attorney is so essential to the fair and just disposition of law that once a defendant is charged with a crime he is entitled to a public defender if he cannot otherwise afford a private lawyer.  However, by the time a defendant is charged with a crime he may have already lost important opportunities to affect the outcome of his case.

     A person accused of committing a crime is entitled to legal counsel at all critical stages of the legal process.  The right to an attorney attaches early in the legal process, even before a person is officially charged with violating the law.  For example, a person may insist the police permit a lawyer to be present and represent that person during an interrogation or lineup.  Whether you are responsible for some wrongdoing, or completely innocent, it’s a good idea to acquire the services of an experienced and knowledgeable defense attorney at the first hint of trouble.  An effective lawyer will not only protect your rights, but also ensure you are not taken advantage of by overzealous police and prosecutors.

     If you are being investigated by the police, your best defense is one that begins before you are officially charged with a crime.  You should contact and hire a reputable defense attorney right away.  Your lawyer can intervene early in the police investigation to ensure the police pursue all leads and to keep them from ignoring key mitigating or exonerating evidence.  The earlier you can get an attorney involved in your case, the greater the opportunity your attorney has in shaping the case and increasing the likelihood of a good outcome.

     A defendant may waive his right to an attorney and represent himself.  The legal system refers to this practice as “pro per” representation.  There is also an old adage regarding this practice: “A person who represents himself has a fool for a client!”  Very few people have the requisite knowledge and experience to successfully navigate our criminal justice system.  It takes years of formal education and passage of a very difficult exam for a lawyer to become licensed in California.  California’s law concerning criminal law and evidence are too complicated and confusing for the uninitiated to master on short notice.  Furthermore, often times it is far too difficult to balance the stress of being a defendant with the demands of being one’s own lawyer.  A knowledgeable defense attorney should be able to provide you with frank and effective counsel while also appearing before the public as a zealous advocate of your case.