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Right to an Attorney

The Sixth Amendment guarantees a criminal defendant the right to have an attorney defend him or her at trial. That right is not dependent on the defendant’s ability to pay an attorney; if a defendant cannot afford a lawyer, the government is required to provide one.

The right to counsel is more than just the right to have an attorney physically present at criminal proceedings. The assistance provided by the attorney must be effective. This does not mean that the defendant has a right to an attorney who will win his or her case. A defendant can receive effective assistance of counsel and still be convicted and sent to jail. However, if an attorney’s performance is not up to reasonable standards for the profession or if the attorney’s ability to put on a full defense is hindered by the prosecutor’s misconduct, then the defendant may be able to challenge his or her conviction.

This provision does not guarantee the right to an attorney in most civil cases.

The United States Constitution, What It Says, What It Means, A Hip Pocket Guide