What your right to an attorney means when you get arrested

Whether you have ever been arrested before or not, you probably know that the police must read you your Miranda rights. Part of the speech is some form of, “You have the right to an attorney.” Have you ever wondered where this right comes from and what it means for your criminal defense?

The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as part of the Bill of Rights, guarantees the right “to have the Assistance of Counsel for [one’s] defence.” Though the amendment’s language mainly refers to court proceedings, your right to a defense attorney does not begin at trial. The police must inform you of your right to counsel at your arrest because it activates at that point.

What your attorney can do for you after an arrest

After your arrest, you can speak to your attorney and have them begin representing you. They can be present during questioning from the police and your initial appearance in court, as well as your bail hearing. Your lawyer’s experience and knowledge of the procedure will give you a better chance of getting released from jail pending the resolution of your case.

A smaller right originally

Initially, the right to counsel only applied to federal trials and only gave the defendant the right to hire an attorney if they could afford one. But in a series of rulings, the U.S. Supreme Court found that defendant had the right to counsel regardless of ability to pay, and that this right applied in state-level courts as well. Today, in virtually every type of trial in which the defendant can potentially end up behind bars, the Sixth Amendment guarantees them the right to a lawyer.