Competent defense counsel
The U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to a competent defense attorney in every criminal proceeding. A court must allow a defendant an opportunity to hire an attorney, and in cases where a defendant cannot afford a lawyer, the state must provide one. The right to counsel also means that a defendant has a right to competent, effective assistance from their attorney. An active law license is all an attorney needs to practice in many courts, but in a criminal case, a defendant should look for more someone with direct experience in that court system. Knowledge of the law is important, but rules and procedures may differ from one court, city, or county to another. Defendants in Washington should look for a Washington criminal defense attorney with knowledge of that state’s courts’ rules, and of the people who run those courts.
Sixth Amendment Right to Counsel
Defendants in criminal cases have the right to “Assistance of Counsel” under the Sixth Amendment to the federal Constitution. Courts have interpreted the right to counsel as encompassing several different rights, including the right to choose one’s own counsel or, if a defendant meets the court’s standards for indigence, the right to court-appointed counsel at the state’s expense. A criminal defendant also has the right to an attorney who is free of conflicts of interest, and to effective assistance of that attorney. Finally, a defendant has the right of self-representation, or pro se representation, in a criminal case, although courts may discourage this.
Knowledge of Local Law
“Effective assistance of counsel” begins with knowledge of the laws controlling a criminal prosecution. Any criminal case must allege a specific violation of one or more criminal statutes. Most criminal cases in Washington are based on state law, but may also proceed based on alleged violations of city or county ordinances. Prosecutions for violation of federal law generally take place in the federal court system.
Knowledge of Local Procedure
Both the Washington and the federal court system have sets of rules governing criminal procedure. Individual counties and cities have their own local rules as well. Each court within a county system may have rules that govern the filing of documents, scheduling of hearings, and conduct within the courtroom. Judges and court officials are likely to police these local rules as vigorously, if not more so, as state- or nationwide rules and laws. Experience with local rules and procedure is therefore an essential feature for a criminal defense lawyer.
Knowledge of Local Officials
Criminal prosecutions are built on laws, rules, and procedures, but they are run by individuals. This includes not only the prosecutors who argue the cases and the judges who decide them, but also the clerks who handle the paperwork, the bailiffs who run the courtrooms, and the administrators who set the dockets. A good working relationship with these people helps keep cases running as smoothly as possible, and improves the likelihood that the attorney can deal positively with prosecutors and judges.
If you have been charged with a criminal offense in Tacoma, you need the assistance of a Washington criminal defense attorney with knowledge of, and experience in, our state’s legal system. Familiarity with local laws, rules, and procedures is critical to a successful defense, and an attorney who knows the people who work in the local system is indispensable. I have protected the rights of criminal defendants throughout western Washington for over fifteen years. Contact us today online or at (888) 312-3093 to schedule a free and confidential consultation.