New U.S. Supreme Court Decision Further Illuminates the Two Rights to Counsel

When a person stands accused of a crime, “the lawyer is the one person to whom society as a whole looks to as the protector of the legal rights of that person in his dealings with the police and the courts.” The constitutional right to the assistance of an attorney—the right to counsel—is one of the key components of the American criminal justice system. Each of the Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution guarantees a right to counsel in certain situations. But the two rights to counsel apply in different circumstances and, when present, involve different rules. This creates a sometimes confusing body of law that officers must nonetheless understand.