right to counsel

Good lawyering makes a difference for people. Common sense tells us that when a person faces significant medical issues, the person has to have the help of an expert in medicine, a medical doctor, in order to address the illness properly. Lay people are not trained for medical work. So too, it is common sense that when a person faces the loss of liberty in a complicated criminal justice system, the person has to have the help of an expert in the law, a lawyer, in order to address the accusations to ensure fair process and a just outcome. Lay people are not trained for legal work.

The United States Supreme Court recognizes that counsel is constitutionally critical for a system that seeks to take a person’s liberty and promises justice in that process.

Guiding hand of counsel is required at every step

“The right to be heard would be, in many cases, of little avail if it did not comprehend the right to be heard by counsel. Even the intelligent and educated layman has small and sometimes no skill in the science of law. If charged with crime, he is incapable, generally, of determining for himself whether the indictment is good or bad. He is unfamiliar with the rules of evidence. Left without the aid of counsel, he may be put on trial without a proper charge, and convicted upon incompetent evidence, or evidence irrelevant to the issue or otherwise inadmissible. He lacks both the skill and knowledge adequately to prepare his defense, even though he have a perfect one. He requires the guiding hand of counsel at every step in the proceedings against him. Without it, though he be not guilty, he faces the danger of conviction because he does not know how to establish his innocence. If that be true of men of intelligence, how much more true is it of the ignorant and illiterate, or those of feeble intellect. If in any case, civil or criminal, a state or federal court were arbitrarily to refuse to hear a party by counsel, employed by and appearing for him, it reasonably may not be doubted that such a refusal would be a denial of a hearing, and, therefore, of due process in the constitutional sense.” Powell v. Alabama, 287 U. S. 45, 68-69 (1932).

Counsel is a necessity for the government and the accused

“That government hires lawyers to prosecute and defendants who have the money hire lawyers to defend are the strongest indications of the widespread belief that lawyers in criminal courts are necessities, not luxuries. The right of one charged with crime to counsel may not be deemed fundamental and essential to fair trials in some countries, but it is in ours. From the very beginning, our state and national constitutions and laws have laid great emphasis on procedural and substantive safeguards designed to assure fair trials before impartial tribunals in which every defendant stands equal before the law.” Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U. S. 335, 344 (1963).

The right to counsel is necessary for full enforcement of all other constitutional guarantees

“An accused’s right to be represented by counsel is a fundamental component of our criminal justice system. Lawyers in criminal cases ‘are necessities, not luxuries.’ Their presence is essential because they are the means through which the other rights of the person on trial are secured.

Without counsel, the right to a trial itself would be ‘of little avail,’ as this Court has recognized repeatedly.

‘Of all the rights that an accused person has, the right to be represented by counsel is by far the most pervasive, for it affects his ability to assert any other rights he may have.’

The special value of the right to the assistance of counsel explains why ‘[i]t has long been recognized that the right to counsel is the right to the effective assistance of counsel.’ McMann v. Richardson, 397 U. S. 759, 397 U. S. 771, n. 14 (1970). The text of the Sixth Amendment itself suggests as much. The Amendment requires not merely the provision of counsel to the accused, but ‘Assistance,’ which is to be ‘for his defence.’” United States v. Cronic, 466 U.S. 648, 653-54 (1984).

The underlying purpose illuminates the value of counsel

The substance of the Constitution’s guarantee of the effective assistance of counsel is illuminated by reference to its underlying purpose. ‘[T]ruth,’ Lord Eldon said, ‘is best discovered by powerful statements on both sides of the question.’ This dictum describes the unique strength of our system of criminal justice.

‘The very premise of our adversary system of criminal justice is that partisan advocacy on both sides of a case will best promote the ultimate objective that the guilty be convicted and the innocent go free.’ Herrin v. New York, 422 U. S. 853, 422 U. S. 862 (1975). It is that ‘very premise’ that underlies and gives meaning to the Sixth Amendment. It ‘is meant to assure fairness in the adversary criminal process.’ United States v. Morrison, 449 U. S. 361, 449 U. S. 364 (1981). Unless the accused receives the effective assistance of counsel, ‘a serious risk of injustice infects the trial itself.’ Cuyler v. Sullivan, 446 U.S. at 446 U. S. 343.” United States v. Cronic, 466 U.S. 648, 655-56 (1984).