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The Rights of the Accused during Trial - The Right To Counsel

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The Sixth Amendment makes a number of guarantees affecting the rights of the accused both before and during trial, among them the right to legal counsel. The accused may choose to represent himself, though this is seldom advisable. Aside from the obvious fact that a lawyer knows much more about the law than a layman does, there is the simple reality that a person often lacks perspective in matters that relate to him or herself. In most aspects of life, this lack of perspective seldom carries a worse penalty than embarrassment--as for instance if one were to adopt a new hairstyle that one's friends thought looked ridiculous--but in a legal context, its consequences are far more dire.

If the accused cannot afford a lawyer, one will be appointed for him by, and at the expense of, the state. This was not always so. In Betts v. Brady (1942), the Supreme Court upheld the ruling of a lower court denying legal assistance to an unemployed laborer accused of robbery. In 1963, however, the Court reversed this ruling in Gideon v. Wainwright, and since then, it has been common practice for indigent (poor) defendants to receive court-appointed counsel even in state trials. Nonetheless, questions concerning this practice remain, particularly since a lawyer appointed by the court may present disadvantages when compared with his or her counterpart on the prosecution. Usually such lawyers are overworked and underpaid, and whereas an attorney paid by a client usually takes a case willingly, the assistance of a court-appointed lawyer is compelled by law.

The O. J. Simpson murder trial of 1994, in which a wealthy defendant was able to pay a fleet of extremely capable lawyers, and an even larger number of experts on various types of evidence, highlights the fact that not all forms of legal defense are the same. No court could ever provide a defendant with a degree of legal assistance even approaching the levels of Simpson's "Dream Team" and their expert witnesses; nonetheless, the state is required, in addition to supplying legal counsel, to provide funds necessary for the indigent defendant's counsel to gather evidence for his or her case.

The Rights of the Accused during Trial - Witnesses And The Right Of Confrontation [next] [back] The Rights of the Accused during Trial - The Burden Of Proof

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