According to the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution an accused individual has the right to counsel in criminal procedures to aid in their defense.

     In the Sixteenth and Seventeenth century defense attorneys were banned from criminal cases.  Defense attorneys were allowed in the late Seventeenth century. By the Eightteenth century one was allowed to have a defense attorney present for other criminal cases.

(Greenfield. 2008. Par. 4)

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      The constitution indicates that the accused has the right to counsel but nowhere does it specify that counsel will be provided for the accused. A lot of times the only people who got an attorney were those who had the money to hire one, and it was considered to be an luxury.  “During the twentieth century, the right to counsel underwent significant change.” (American Bar Association. N.d. par. 2) The right to counsel was no longer restricted to adults or to those who could provide the means to hire an attorney. Counsel was at one point restricted to criminal trial.

When does the right to counsel attach

      It is confusing to say when the right to council attaches because there are no clear guidelines.   The right to council attaches when:

·         Judicial proceedings start against the person accused.

·         When any interrogations by law enforcements start.

·         During a preliminary hearing.

·         During an arraignment.

 There are also other times when the right to counsel attaches.  Also there are times when the right to counsel does not attach, such as:

·         When the suspect is in a police lineup , right before being charged.


     Self-representation is when the defendant chooses to represent him or herself in any judicial proceedings. It is recommended that individuals forego this practice. “Defendants charged with minor traffic offenses or shoplifting may get by without hiring an attorney, while defendants charged with violent offenses or felonies should rarely be without one.” (NOLO. 2010. Par. 3)Some of the  reasons one may wish to represent themselves:

·         Costs associated with hiring a lawyer.

·          The individual may feel he or she can do better.

·         They feel it would be a waste of time to hire an attorney because they are going to plead guilty.

Even though these are all valid reasons to want to represent yourself, you must be able to understand the legal system.  The normal lay person does not have this expertise like a lawyer does. Other things that you should consider before deciding upon whether or not to represent yourself are:

·         The nature of your charges and the punishment that can result if you are found guilty.

If the matter is a civil matter representing one’s self is rarely a problem. To represent yourself can be a bad idea if there is a chance that you would be found guilty.

The Role of Attorneys

     “The defense attorney’s role is of paramount importance in almost every criminal case.”

(Findlaw. 2009. Par. 3) The defense attorney has several roles, such as:

·         Advise their client of their rights.

·         They can also guide and explain all the different stages of the judicial process.

·         Ensure that their client’s rights have not been violated in any way.

The defense attorney must be capable in defending his or her client. Failure to do so can result in negative outcome for the attorney and the defendant. The Attorney should always act in the best interests of their client, this may include negotiating plea bargains.  They also need to be sure that they don’t make any bad choices or act in such a manner that could actually harm their client.The defense attorney’s biggest job is to defend his or her client against the charges that have been made against them. The “courts have interpreted the Sixth

Amendment right to counsel as guaranteeing the “effective assistance of counsel” to criminal defendants” (Findlaw. 2009. Par. 4) Effective assistance of counsel is ultimately the most important role that the defensive attorney has.

     In conclusion, the right to counsel is an important aspect of our legal system. The Sixth Amendment guarantees us to the right to counsel. It is recommended that those who are faced with judicial proceedings take advantage of this right whenever it becomes applicable to their cases. The provision for attorney can help the accused to navigate the legal system and provide for his or her best interests. “The right to counsel is the most fundamental procedural safeguard to assure a fair trial in which the government and the accused stand equal before the law. (National Legal Aid & Defender Association. 2004. Par. 3) Effective, affordable counsel is one right that should never be a luxury. Thankfully, in the United States there are safeguards that ensure that all Americans will have access to counsel in the event they should require it.


American Bar Association. (n.d.). ABA Law Day: For Schools: Lessons 7-9: The Right to Counsel. Retrieved May 20, 2010, from

Findlaw. (2009). The Right to Counsel – Criminal Law. Retrieved May 20, 2010, from

Greenfield, S. (2008, March 17). Simple Justice: SCOTUS Today, When Does Right to Counsel Attach? Retrieved May 21, 2010, from

National Legal Aid & Defender Association. (2004). NLADA: Defender Legal Services – Right to Counsel Resource Kit. Retrieved May 20, 2010, from

NOLO. (2010). Does Self-Representation in a Criminal Case Ever Make Sense? – Free Legal Information – Nolo. Retrieved May 19, 2010, from


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