Defendants are generally entitled to counsel from the time of their arraignment through their criminal trial. This is because the defendant's need for consultation, investigation, and preparation are critically important for a fair trial. In fact, courts have gradually expanded this idea to the point that there's a legal concept of "critical stage in a criminal proceeding," which indicates when a defendant must be represented by counsel.
Below, you'll find more information about custodial interrogations, when the Sixth Amendment right to counsel attaches and what happens if this right is violated.
Understanding Custodial Interrogations
Custodial interrogation refers to instances in which a person is in police custody and being questioned. While police custody usually means the person has been arrested, it can actually apply to any situation in which police have deprived a person of their freedom. If there are questions as to whether it was a custodial interrogation, courts will look at the "totality of the circumstances."
The concept of custodial interrogation is important because before it can occur, a suspect must be informed of their Miranda rights which include one's right to remain silent and right to counsel. Although these are constitutional rights, at this stage they are not derived from the Sixth Amendment.
When Does the Sixth Amendment Right to Counsel Attach?
It's important to understand that the Sixth Amendment right to counsel attaches only when someone is formally charged with a crime. This occurs when someone is either indicted or arraigned. To be clear, merely taking the arrested person to jail is not formal charging, even though the person may be informed of charges by the judicial official. In order to invoke their Sixth Amendment right to counsel, a suspect must clearly indicate that they are invoking this right and police are required to cease questioning the suspect until they have their attorney present.
In Michigan v. Jackson, the U.S. Supreme Court weighed in on what police are prohibited from doing once the right to counsel has attached. Once this right attaches, the police are prohibited from purposefully eliciting incriminating information from a defendant in any matter in which he has been formally charged. In other words, the police are prohibited from further attempts to interrogate the defendant about anything related to the formally charged crime.
Violation of Right to Counsel
Generally speaking, statements obtained in violation of a defendant's Sixth Amendment rights will be excluded from the evidence at trial. There is, however, one important exception to the Sixth Amendment exclusionary rule. Evidence obtained by violating a defendant's Sixth Amendment rights may be used for the sole purpose of impeaching the defendants' testimony at trial. This is an important tool because it essentially attacks the defendant's credibility.
Judicial Proceedings and Custodial Interrogation: Additional Resources
If you have additional questions or would like to conduct your own research on the laws in your state, check out of the links below.
Get Professional Help to Better Understand Judicial Proceedings
Criminal laws aren't always particularly easy to understand, even for the most educated among us. While you can conduct your own research, it is always a good idea to speak with a criminal defense attorney in your jurisdiction if you are charged with a crime -- especially if your situation involves custodial interrogation. Start now and find an experienced criminal defense lawyer near you.