If you are arrested, then you have the right to legal counsel. This means the state should provide you with a lawyer if you cannot afford one. In fact, this is one of the rights that the arresting officers declare when they come for you. Here are three things you may not know about this right:

This Right Doesn't Apply To Every Case, in Practice

Technically, the constitution grants you the right to counsel for all criminal processes. In practice, however, you will find that the right to counsel doesn't apply to every case. For example, you shouldn't expect to be given free legal representation if you have been charged with a traffic offense.

This is mainly because government resources are spread thin, and it's difficult to provide free counsel to every person who has been charged with a crime. For this reason, you should only expect this right to be upheld if you are facing a serious crime. In practice, this means you are only going to get free counsel if you conviction may result in jail time.

You Won't Get a free Lawyer Immediately after Arrest

The second thing to note is that you will not be provided with a lawyer immediately after you are arrested. Your legal right to counsel kicks in after the formal judicial proceedings (related to your case) have been instigated. For example, you shouldn't expect to be given a lawyer (in case you can't afford one) immediately after you are detained and placed at the back of a squad car.

In practice, this means that you can avoid all questions leveled at you until you make it to your initial hearing. This is when you request for a lawyer. The judge then examines your economic status to ascertain that you really can't afford one before giving you free legal counsel. If you want legal representation immediately after your arrest, then you have to get one on your own.

Violation of this Right May Lead to a Habeas Corpus Petition

Habeas corpus is a legal principle that allows you to challenge a criminal conviction (made in a state court) in a federal court. You are only allowed to make such a petition on the basis of the legality of your conviction.

For example, the Fifth Amendment entitles you to legal counsel, so if you have been convicted without such counsel, then your conviction may be illegal. In such a case, you may submit a habeas corpus petition to determine the validity of your conviction.

It's in your best interest to have legal representation, even if the state doesn't think so. Engage a criminal defense lawyer early in the process, such as Thomas A Corletta, so that he or she can prepare a tight defense before the case progresses.