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What the Sixth Amendment does for criminal suspects

During the standard Miranda warning police are supposed to make when arresting a person, the suspect is informed that he or she has the right to an attorney. Having a defense attorney can make the difference between a fair process, and having the suspect’s civil rights violated.

In the centuries since the Bill of Rights became the law of the land, the right to counsel provision has been expanded to include most phases of the criminal justice system, ensuring that the defendant has someone on his or her side who understands the law. Among the times when the Sixth Amendment applies are:

  • During a police interrogation
  • At trial
  • The sentencing phase, if the defendant is found guilty
  • At least the initial appeal, if convicted

Besides that, the Sixth Amendment has been interpreted to give criminal defendants several other rights. For instance, most defendants are entitled to a jury trial, and the jury must be permitted to hear all witnesses and see all of the evidence. Defendants also have the right to confront the evidence and all witnesses against them.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the right to an attorney does not depend upon the defendant’s ability to pay. Indigent defendants have the right to an attorney appointed by the court and paid by the government, at least in cases where the defendant is facing imprisonment of at least six months.

When charged with a crime, the best thing you can do for yourself is get the best attorney you can. A knowledgeable defense lawyer will know where the weaknesses in the prosecution’s case are, and may be able to help you avoid jail. 

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