The right to counsel is guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution. It provides for counsel in phases of a criminal proceeding for anyone who cannot afford one. This wasn’t always the case. Early colonial days did not allow defendants the opportunity to hire their own attorney nor was one appointed. This right has been earned in incremental stages involving several precedent cases. Those cases include Powell v. Alabama, 287 U.S. 45 (1932), Johnson v. Zerbst, 304 U.S. 458 (1938), Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963), Argersinger v. Hamlin, 407 U.S. 321 (1972), and United States v. Wade, 388 U. S. 218 (1967). Today, counsel is guaranteed in all phases of critical pretrial events. Counsel is also guaranteed during post-trial sentencing procedures and in a first appeal to a conviction ensuring the presence, expert advice, and assistance at all stages of a prosecution (Kanovitz, 2010, p. 409).
In the early founding of this country, the colonies used common law brought over from England which prevented serious offenders from obtaining counsel even at their own expense (Right to Counsel Clause). Some attorneys, out of the kindness of their heart and others for self-serving purposes, would lend their services freely and other times the public would pay. This pattern continued until the Revolutionary war at which time the practice of hiring one’s own representation was well practiced. The right of counsel was secured in the Sixth Amendment.
The Sixth Amendment gave the right to counsel but only people who could afford an attorney could hire one. Thus, a large population of people was left to defend themselves at a great disadvantage for many of them were uneducated or had other issues that prevented them from getting a fair trial. The first major incremental case to impact the right to counsel was Powell v. Alabama, 287 U.S. 45 (1932). In Powell, the court recognized that poor and illiterates were not receiving a
References: Argersinger v. Hamlin, 407 U.S. 25 (1972). Kanovitz, J.R. (2010). Constitutional law (12thed.). New Providence, NJ: LexisNexis/Matthew Bender. Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963). Johnson v. Zerbst, 304 U.S. 458 (1938). Powell v. Alabama, 287 U.S. 45 (1932). Right to Counsel Clause(2010). Revolutionary War and Beyond. Accessed on 21 February 2012 at http://www.revolutionary-war-and-beyond.com/right-to- counsel-clause.html United States v. Wade, 388 U.S. 218 (1967).