Before conducting custodial interrogations, detectives usually must inform individuals of their legal rights. They do so by reading the Miranda advisement. This advisement includes both your right to remain silent and your right to legal counsel.
The right to legal counsel comes from the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The language of this amendment indicates individuals have a right to legal counsel in all criminal prosecutions. In reality, though, your right begins much earlier than your trial date.
The criminal process
Courts have interpreted the language of the Sixth Amendment to apply to all major phases of the criminal process. If there is a chance state actors may violate your legal rights, you probably have a right to have an attorney present. Consequently, when officers advise you of your rights and begin questioning you, you can and should request an attorney.
Your rights to remain silent and to confer with legal counsel stem from your fundamental right not to incriminate yourself. Remember, prosecutors may use any statements you make to officers against you to secure a conviction in a criminal trial. Because officers may coerce confessions or otherwise induce you to incriminate yourself, requesting a lawyer immediately is often wise.
When it comes to criminal matters, silence is usually golden. Still, it can be awkward to tell officers you want to remain silent and not cooperate with their investigation. Asking for an attorney has the same effect. That is, when you request legal counsel, officers typically must stop interrogating you until an attorney is available to advise you.
Because they receive extensive training on obtaining incriminating information from suspects, officers often have an unfair advantage during interrogations. Asking for a lawyer early in the process helps you both level the playing field and protect your fundamental rights.