Government prosecutors have extensive experience with the criminal justice system. After all, many prosecutors try hundreds of cases per year. Unless you are a seasoned criminal defense attorney, you simply do not have the experience to go toe-to-toe with government lawyers.
To help level the playing field, the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives you the right to legal counsel. This is true regardless of whether you can afford to hire your own lawyer. When does your right to an attorney kick in, though?
Your right to legal counsel is a fundamental one in the Bill of Rights. This right applies whenever you are facing possible incarceration. That is, if there is a possibility you may go to jail or prison, you have a right to have a lawyer represent you. Therefore, your right to an attorney covers felony charges, misdemeanor offenses and even some traffic infractions.
The criminal justice process
If you have a right to legal counsel, that right extends to all phases of the criminal justice process. This includes police interrogations. Still, to invoke your right to legal counsel, you must ask for a lawyer. If you intend to have a judge appoint one for you, however, you may have to wait until your first court appearance.
Police interrogations are not not necessarily fair to criminal suspects. In fact, officers use a variety of tactics to obtain incriminating information. Because you are at a serious disadvantage, it is advisable to ask for an attorney before talking to officers.
Ultimately, until a lawyer arrives to provide you with legal counsel, it is wise to remain silent.