Legal Info

Right to an Attorney

Under state and federal law certain people have a right to an attorney. Unfortunately this right does not extend to cover every kind of case imaginable. For instance, there is no such right to an attorney in civil matters or divorce cases. The following will explain the cases where the right to counsel does exist.

Legal right to counsel

The right to an attorney is found under the Sixth Amendment of the U.S.Constitution, which says that anyone facing federal criminal charges has the right to counsel. Under the 14th Amendment, suspects also have the right to an attorney if they are facing state felony charges. Tennessee law is even broader and says, “every person accused of any crime or misdemeanor whatsoever is entitled to counsel.”

When does the right to counsel begin?

It’s important to understand that this right to counsel does not arise the moment you have been questioned by a police officer. According to the law, criminal defendants have the right to an attorney throughout every critical stage of a criminal proceeding, but this only begins once the right is formally “attached.” The right to an attorney only attaches when adversarial judicial proceedings have commenced against the criminal defendant, meaning once the suspect has been formally charged or indicted. Just being questioned or suspected of a crime does not guarantee anyone an attorney.

How do you qualify for a court-appointed lawyer?

Though most people have heard of court-appointed attorneys, getting one is not as easy as just asking for one. After all, the state has no interest in paying for an attorney just so you can save a little money. The right to have a court-appointed attorney only exists when a defendant is truly indigent,meaning the person has no ability to pay for his or her own representation.

It also bears mentioning that if you are entitled to a court-appointed lawyer you do not have the right to pick and choose. Defendants receiving court- appointed attorneys do not have the right to have an attorney of their choosing. If the court finds that the defendant is indigent, the court will assign a public defender to the defendant.

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