The Criminal Defendant’s Constitutional Right to an Attorney and Effective Assistance
When a defense attorney is reviewing his/her client’s case, the attorney looks at a variety of different evidence – direct and circumstantial evidence – which may potentially convince the jury that the criminal defendant is either innocent, or in some case, less guilty. The information that can be accumulated may involve witness testimony, testimony from family and friends that can attest to the good character of the criminal defendant, evidence of factors that weaken the motive for the criminal defendant to have wanted to commit the crime, and alibi testimony which comes in to prove that the defendant was not at the time and place of the crime. All of this evidence, among other factors, is put together by the defense attorney and if found admissible, is introduced to the jury to convince them that the defendant was either innocent or not as a guilty as the prosecution has asserted.
The Sixth Amendment of the Constitution
It is the right of those who have been charged by the government for a crime that may force the defendant to relinquish his/her right to life, liberty, and possession of property, to have access to an attorney who may advocate on his/her behalf in front of jury of peers. This is the meaning behind a fair and impartial trial and more importantly, the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution. The Sixth Amendment further provides that every person who is on trial for a crime has the right to a trial without unnecessary delay, the right to know who is accusing you, and the right to know what the charges are and the evidence that is being put forth against you.
The Right to a Lawyer: The Gideon v. Wainwright Case
The right to a lawyer in a felony trial was established in the Supreme Court case, Gideon v. Wainwright, on March 18, 1963. The holding of the case determined that if a person who is too poor to afford an attorney is brought into criminal proceedings, he/she would not receive a fair trial, which is guaranteed under the Sixth Amendment. This has led to our current system where the state has the responsibility of appointing public defense attorneys for those who are unable to afford one.
The Current Issue of Surrounding the Right to an Attorney: Overloaded Public Defenders
Though in theory appointing an attorney to a defendant makes the trial fair, the current system in place is qualified by public defense attorneys with a significant caseload, often having to handle 400-500 felony cases per year. For lawyers that handled misdemeanor cases, their caseloads reflected on average 2,225 cases per year. Back in 2013, the Florida Supreme Court ruled in favor of the public defender’s office, permitting public defenders to refuse to take on new cases if they were overloaded. This was because the burdensome caseloads were leading to several claims by indigent defendants that they received ineffective assistance from their attorneys.
Ineffective Assistance: The Two-Prong Supreme Court Test
Ineffective assistance precludes indigent defendants from receiving a fair trial guaranteed to them under the Sixth Amendment. If a defendant can prove that the attorney was ineffective, it is possible that he or she could get a new trial. There is, however, a high threshold for proving ineffective assistance. According to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Strickland v. Washington, the criminal defendant must affirmatively prove both elements in a two-part objective test:
- Whether in an objective, reasonable view, the attorney’s performance was below the practicing norm of other attorneys, and
- Whether, if the attorney had not failed to perform his/her duties reasonably, the outcome of the trial would more likely have been different.
Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney in Fort Lauderdale
The right to an attorney, an impartial jury, a speedy trial, and the right to know what you have been charged with, are just some of the constitutional rights guaranteed to criminal defendants by the Sixth Amendment. Effective assistance is also a right of clients. If you or a loved one has been arrested for the commission of a crime, an experienced defense attorney like Kevin J. Kulik, will go above and beyond to provide you successful and efficient advocacy throughout your criminal proceedings. Contact Kevin J. Kulik today for a free and confidential consultation in the Fort Lauderdale area.