Volume 56

Pleas, Sir, May I Have an Attorney? Why the Sixth Amendment Right to Counsel Should Extend to Pre-Indictment Plea Negotiations

by Abbe Dembowitz

The ratification of the Sixth Amendment in 1791 guaranteed the accused the right to counsel in a criminal prosecution. More than two centuries later, the criminal justice system of trials has largely shifted to a system of pleas, raising the question of whether the right to counsel should extend to the crucial moment when a defendant decides, pre-indictment, to make a decision that will change his or her life forever. Although the Supreme Court recognized this critical issue by extending the right to counsel to post-indictment plea negotiations in 2012,  it left unanswered whether the right should extend to pre-indictment pleas. If the Court grants cert in Turner v. United States, it may definitively decide whether “the guiding hand of counsel” guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment should apply in pre-indictment circumstances.

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