Donald Trump has added the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States to his ever-growing list of laws that he wants to either change or ax if he becomes president. This time, Mr. Trump is focused on the fact that the man who is currently facing criminal charges for the recent bombing and attempted bombings in the New York City area, Ahmad Khan Ramani, is guaranteed legal representation. Just like Dzhokar Tsarnaev, a young man who recently got the death sentence for the Boston Marathon, Mr. Ramani will have the right to a lawyer for his case even though he is currently facing charges in both New York and New Jersey for the bombing in Chelsea and the placing of bombs in public places in New York and New Jersey.
Despite what Mr. Trump thinks as to who should be allowed to enjoy this particular right from the Constitution, there is no way that Ahmad Khan Ramani will be denied legal representation from a court-appointed attorney. The right to an attorney exists for all defendants in the United States who are facing potential criminal sentences of a year or more in prison. While this right is granted the Constitution, it was not recognized by all courts until the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in 1963 that all citizens, regardless of their financial status, were entitled to legal representation when they may face a sentence of a year or more in prison if convicted in both the federal court system and the state court system.
The Right to an Attorney
While Donald Trump is going around insinuating that this means Ahmad Khan Ramani will have the best criminal defense lawyers that money can buy, or at least a criminal defense team that would rival O.J. Simpson’s “dream team,” the Constitutional right to legal representation in criminal matters only means that Mr. Ramani is entitled to a court-appointed defense lawyer, who may be a great lawyer or may be a terrible lawyer.
If Mr. Ramani wants to, he can always choose to not have a court-appointed attorney and either hire a private criminal defense attorney or represent himself in all court proceedings. However, if he chooses to go the self-representation route, Ahmad may still have to deal with court-appointed legal representation, just as Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab did when he chose to represent himself instead of continuing to be represented by the court-appointed lawyers that were assigned for him.
Mr. Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian who attempted to blow up an airplane at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport in 2009, decided that he would be better off with self-representation, but the federal court judge who was trying the case had a different opinion. As a result, even though Mr. Abdulmutallab was allowed to engage in self-representation through various pre-trial court proceedings until he decided to accept a plea deal, the federal judge appointed a stand-by counsel to answer any of his questions and provide assistance as requested. Thus, even if Ahmad were to reject his court-appointed criminal defense lawyer in favor or self-representation, he would likely still have access to some form of legal assistance to ensure that his rights are not violated.
Of course, the only reason Ahmad Khan Ramani is being given access to counsel during the whole criminal legal process is he is actually being tried in a court of law for violating laws. Instead of having the police go after Mr. Ramani, the president of the United States, as commander in chief, could have sent the military in pursuit of Ahmad Khan Ramani as a member of a terrorist organization that the United States is currently fighting against if there was proof that he had connections to ISIS, Al Qaeda or another terrorist organization that the US has committed to battling. If he been captured and detained by the military and not have been arrested as a standard criminal on American soil by the police, then, upon capture, Mr. Ramani could have been classified as an unlawful enemy combatant.
An unlawful enemy combatant is someone who has joined or substantially supported an enemy non-state armed group in the conduct of hostilities. Ahmad Khan Ramani associated himself with Al Qaeda and attempted to help Al Qaeda in the organization’s war with the United States by placing bombs in New York and New Jersey, which would qualify him as an unlawful enemy combatant. As an unlawful enemy combatant, Mr. Ramani would not have a right to free legal assistance right away, even if he wanted it, because the military is free to detain unlawful enemy combatants for an undetermined amount of time without bringing any charges against them as unlawful enemy combatants do not have a right to a speedy trial, nor do they have a right to a lawyer during pre-charge questioning.
However, if the military were to eventually bring charges against Mr. Ramani in either court or a military commission, which is the military’s version of a court trial, he would be assigned defense counsel for free. Thus, Mr. Ramani would still be able to have access to free legal counsel courtesy of the United States federal government, but he would not be able to receive access to that lawyer until it was time for the actual military commission because he would not have certain rights that he would otherwise enjoy in the normal civilian criminal process, such as the right to a lawyer during questioning and the right to a speedy trial.
Unless Mr. Trump finds a way to rewrite the Constitution and remove a criminal defendant’s right to legal representation, then he will have to accept the fact that Ahmad Khan Ramani is entitled to legal representation while he is going through the process of being charged with the crimes of bombing and attempting to bomb a number of places in both New Jersey and New York City. However, this does not mean that Mr. Ramani will receive the best legal representation out there. If, like Mr. Ramani, you are facing serious criminal charges, it would be in your best interests to contact a criminal lawyer to ensure that you obtain the best legal representation available to protect yourself from a severe criminal sentence.