Understanding Your Right to Counsel in a Criminal Case.

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Legal Blog
Tuesday, 17 May 2011 17:31

You have the right to remain silent.  Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney.  If you cannot afford one, an attorney will be provided to you.

Everyone is familiar with the Miranda warning - it is a staple in television police procedurals.  We all understand that you do not have to speak to officers questioning you.  But included in your Miranda warning is your right to an attorney in a criminal case. This right is sometimes less clear, but it is of paramount importance.  Your right to counsel is provided to you by both the Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the Constitution.

What does this mean?  It means that if you have been arrested and accused of a crime, you have the right to legal representation, whether or not you can afford such representation.  Legal representation is critical in all disputes, but never is it more critical than when you have been accused of a crime.  The criminal justice system is complex, and police officers, judges and attorneys are familiar with it.  If you have been arrested, you are best served having someone who knows how to navigate the system to work on your behalf.

1.  Invoking Your Right to an Attorney. Police officers may want you to waive your right to an attorney and speak freely to them, telling you that it will be easier for everyone to just get the matter settled quickly.  You may even feel that, to prove your innocence, you would do better to speak to the authorities without an attorney.

You would be wrong.

It is imperative to have an attorney with you when charged with a crime, particularly if you are innocent.  Attorneys are experienced in dealing with the legal system and with police officers.  They know every step of what will happen during your arrest and interrogation and are there to make sure that your rights are being respected.  They will also work with you to keep you from incriminating yourself.  Protestations of innocence are all well and good, but only your attorney will be able to make sure that your words are not misconstrued.

Even if you initially waive your right to an attorney, you can rescind your waiver and request an attorney.  But you must do so unequivocally and succinctly.  You must tell your questioner that you will not answer any more questions without a lawyer present.  You must also tell your questioner that you want to see your lawyer.  At this point, it is in your best interest to stop speaking to your questioners altogether until you have met with your attorney.

2.  What if I Cannot Afford an Attorney? As noted, if you do not have a lawyer, one will be appointed for you.  Be aware, however, that this does not mean you will see a lawyer immediately.  You will see one within a short period of time, but it may be more than a day before you get to see a court appointed lawyer.

You must be brought before a judge and charged within 72 hours after you have been arrested.  You will see your lawyer before that, but in busy district courts, you may only meet your lawyer before your case is called before the judge.

3.  What Your Attorney Will Do For You. In a criminal case, your attorney is your advocate in the system.  Your attorney, from the start, will work on your behalf.  He will explain to you what you have been charged with, the possible penalties and the process your case will follow.  He will be with you during questioning to ensure that your civil rights are not violated and that you do not incriminate yourself.

If you are charged and your case goes to trial, your attorney will work to negotiate a plea bargain with the prosecutor.  He will investigate your case and present the best possible defense.  He will ensure that your rights are not infringed during questioning at trial, and that all exculpatory evidence is presented.  Your attorney is your greatest asset in a criminal trial.

Never underestimate the importance of having an experienced Michigan criminal attorney advocating on your behalf if you are involved in a criminal case.  You have the right to an attorney, and it is in your best interest to take advantage of that right.


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