10 January 2011

Right of Any Person To Legal Counsel (Part 2)

Continuing our series on this issue (click here for earlier posting) ; we discuss the position in US. This series features comparison of Laws related to rights of a person (not arrested) but called upon by Police to assist investigation. Does this person have a right to Legal Representation? We now see what US Laws suggests.


We refer to the United States Constitution [“USC”]. In the Fifth and Sixth Amendment of the USC, in criminal proceedings, the accused is given the right for assistance of counsel:-

“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence”

The Fifth Amendment of the USC guarantees the right of the victims, witness, suspect of the crime when in custody of the police officer. The Fifth Amendment states as follows:-

“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

This lead to the famous case of Miranda, leading to what is now known as the Miranda warning in US. The Court in that case held:-

“the prosecution may not use statements … stemming from custodial interrogation of the defendant unless it demonstrates the use of procedural safeguards effective to secure the privilege against self-incrimination. By custodial interrogation, we mean questioning initiated by law enforcement officers after a person has been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way… Prior to any questioning, the person must be warned that he has a right to remain silent, that any statement he does make may be used as evidence against him, and that he has right to the presence of an attorney, either retained or appointed.”

The Chief Justice Earl Warren had classified the warning to be “Miranda Warning” and is to be delivered by police interrogations.

A denied legal representation, or even a violation of such right to counsel by the police or any officers given the power to interrogate, shall be remedied by excluding from the evidence at a trial hearing of the statements obtained therein.

It is clear that the assistance of counsel, as of one many due process of law, evokes the general America’s system of support towards fair play and reflects the centrality of attorneys in the adversarial tradition of the Common Law Countries.

It is hoped Malaysian Laws will adopt a similar approach.

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