Sixth Amendment Right to Counsel
Your rights to counsel and to present a defense in a criminal case are guaranteed by the 6th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, as well as by state constitutions.
The 6th Amendment applies to both the federal government and, by virtue of the 14th Amendment, to the individual states. No one may be imprisoned for any offense (misdemeanor, felony, or petty) without a waiver of their 6th Amendment rights, unless he or she was represented by an attorney at trial.
Federal Right to Counsel
In criminal proceedings, a defendant has the right to retain an attorney for trial and on appeal, provided he/she can afford the cost. For felony and misdemeanor charges, a defendant must be told of this right, but not for infractions (traffic tickets).
Additionally, if the defendant cannot afford to hire an attorney and is charged with any felony or with a misdemeanor in which he will actually go to jail, he/she must be provided with an attorney at the public’s expense.
State Right to Counsel
Most states have implemented more stringent requirements than the federal law. So while defendants are entitled to a court-appointed attorney for felony or misdemeanor charges where actual jail time is imposed, some states provide the right to an attorney for all felony or misdemeanor charges regardless of whether it is punishable by imprisonment.
Right to Self-Representation
Coupled with the right to counsel, and equally important, is the right to represent yourself. This right is unconditional, and if a defendant knowingly and intelligently chooses this, this right cannot be denied.
However, when defendants choose this option, the trial judge and prosecutor may attempt to dissuade the defendant from doing so because self-representation typically slows down the trial process. The judge, however, does have the right to appoint a standby attorney to advise you. You may seek the advice of this standby attorney at your discretion.