We’re about halfway through our series on the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution. So far, we’ve covered the speedy trial clause and the notice of accusation clause. There are three more aspects of the sixth amendment we have yet to cover, and that includes the assistance of counsel clause. So, today we’ll cover that clause and what it could mean for your case.
The Assistance of Counsel Clause in the 6th Amendment
First, let’s review what this clause says and what it means. Click here to read the entire amendment. But in particular, we’re focusing on the last clause. This reads: “…the accused shall enjoy the right… to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.”
In the past, this simply meant that the defendant could hire a professional lawyer to defend them. But what about those who can’t afford one? In a 1932 ruling on Powell v. Alabama, the Supreme Court decided that “where the defendant is unable to employ counsel, and is incapable adequately of making his own defense because of ignorance, feeble mindedness, illiteracy, or the like, it is the duty of the court, whether requested or not, to assign counsel for him.”
Assistance of Counsel and You
Second, what could this mean for your case? It’s important not take offense at the phrasing of that ruling. No one wants to think they’re “feeble minded.” But even if you’re incredibly smart and well-read, you may not have the legal expertise of a trained lawyer!
What’s important to see from this is your right to legal counsel, no matter who you are. That means a public defender who works pro bono, or hiring a professional attorney yourself. Imagine how easily the courts and the state could exploit you if you didn’t know the law or know how to use it in your favor! That’s why everyone has the right to the assistance of counsel.