The right to counsel is a constitutional right guaranteed to all citizens of the United States who are involved in criminal prosecutions. As written in the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right… to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence [sic].”1 Subsequent decisions of the Supreme Court have highlighted the contours of the right to counsel, always emphasizing that this extends to protect those who are unable to afford the fees of a private attorney. 2 And, each time that the right to counsel is enjoyed, the attorney must provide truly effective assistance to the defendant.3 Since 1974, the U.S. Justice Department has issued standards to govern indigent defense.4 As a result, jurisdictions generally maintain up to date lists of court appointed attorneys who will serve as defense counsel to indigent individuals with criminal cases before the court.
The right to counsel applies at critical stages of a criminal case, including: interrogation after arrest, line-ups and identification procedures, preliminary hearings, arraignments, and plea bargain negotiations.5 The right also applies after conviction, in sentencing proceedings, appeals of right, and sometimes in probation and parole proceedings.6 The right to counsel even extends to some other proceedings not traditionally a part of a criminal case, if those proceedings can result in deprivation of liberty. These can include hearings on the subject matter of mental competency and commitment, extradition, prison disciplinary proceedings, some family cases, juvenile status offense hearings, and cases of abuse and neglect.7
Prison Fellowship believes that a just process is an integral part of a successful, restorative criminal justice system. In order to fully engage due process, each party must have the opportunity to be zealously represented in a court of law. The assistance of an equipped attorney also allows for the maximum level of participation by the responsible party in court proceedings, including participation with full consideration of plea bargains, impact statements, and other key moments in preparation, trial, and settlement.
Men and women charged with a crime are to be presumed innocent until proved to be guilty in a court of law. By upholding this vital principle, our society maintains the truth of each person’s individual dignity and value and ensures just process. Prison Fellowship endorsed legislation (House Bill 1032) to provide defense counsel to all youth who do not have a private attorney in the juvenile justice system in Colorado. The Governor signed the bill into law in May 2016.
1 U.S. Const. amend. VI.
2 Johnson v. Zerbst, 304 U.S. 458 (1938); Powell v. Alabama, 287 U.S. 45 (1938); Betts v. Brady, 837 U.S. 455 (1938); Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963); In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1 (1967); Argersinger v. Hamlin, 407 U.S. 25 (1972).
3 Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984).
5 Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966); Brewer v. Williams, 430 U.S. 387 (1977); United States v. Wade, 388 U.S. 218 (1967); Moore v. Illinois, 434 U.S. 220 (1977); Coleman v. Alabama, 399 U.S. 1 (1970); Hamilton v. Alabama, 368 U.S. 52 (1961); Brady v. United States, 397 U.S. 742 (1970); McMann v. Richardson, 397 U.S. 759 (1970).
6 Townsend v. Burke, 334 U.S. 736 (1948); United States v. Tucker, 404 U.S. 443 (1972); Douglas v. California, 372 U.S. 353 (1963); Mempa v. Rhay, 389 U.S. 128 (1967).