Do You Have The Right To A Lawyer On Appeal?
As you probably know, the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives you the right to a lawyer in criminal cases. Specifically, it states that “[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right … to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defen[s]e.”
So, if you’re charged with a crime and cannot afford to hire your own lawyer, the judge in your case will appoint one for you. They usually do so early on in your case. But, once you’re sentenced, that attorney probably won’t be able to help you anymore.
Do you have the right to a lawyer for an appeal by right?
At that point, you probably have to turn to another lawyer. But do you still have a right to a court-appointed one? For your first criminal appeal, the answer is probably yes. If you are filing an “appeal by right” (sometimes called an “appeal as of right”), the court will likely appoint an attorney.
In states like Michigan and California, for example, you can receive a court-appointed lawyer for your “appeal by right” in that first appeal. In Michigan, that appeal goes to the Michigan Court of Appeals. Similarly, in California, that appeal goes to the California Court of Appeal.
Do you have the right to a lawyer for an appeal by leave?
After that, however, your right to an attorney ends (or at least that’s what the United States Supreme Court has decided). So, if you want to appeal the Michigan Court of Appeals’ decision to deny your appeal, you will either need to appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court yourself or hire a lawyer.
This is true not only when you appeal to the next level of appeals court but also when you file post-judgment motions or seek leave to appeal (in situations where you don’t have an appeal by right). In these circumstances, you must either retain a lawyer or represent yourself.
Thankfully, states like Michigan don’t make it impossible to represent yourself on appeal. In fact, the Michigan Court of Appeals actually publishes a Guide to Pursuing a Criminal Appeal that provides a pretty helpful and straightforward explanation of the appeals process in criminal cases.
Many other states have similar guides. And, if they don’t, the websites from nonprofits and law firms might help. Even the United States Courts website has a pretty straightforward summary of the process for criminal cases in federal court that may help you with an appeal.
The Sixth Amendment provides you with the right to a lawyer in all criminal cases. That right includes at trial and, in many cases, even for your first appeal. However, after that, you may have to hire a lawyer or represent yourself. Many courts give you a helpful explanation of their appeals process.