The Right to Counsel: A Promise, Not a Reality

by TChris

Innocent people are convicted of crimes for many reasons. One is the failure of state governments to provide adequate funding for lawyers who defend indigent clients. The newly-formed National Committee on the Right to Counsel hopes to call attention to the problem.

"Even though state and local governments are responsible for ensuring adequate counsel for defendants who cannot afford to hire their own lawyers, many people … are nonetheless still convicted and imprisoned each year without any legal representation" or with an inadequate one, the Washington-based group said.

In some states, an accused with a minimum wage job doesn't qualify for a public defender. Public defenders are often swamped with crushing caseloads, and appointed lawyers are frequently denied the funding they need to hire experts and investigators needed to mount a defense.

"The balance is tipped too heavily in favor of the government when it comes to prosecution of persons without means who can't afford private counsel," said [Timothy] Lewis [who served a decade on the federal appeals court in Philadelphia]. "We really need to take a look at that. Who are we as a people if we not giving adequate and equal representation to those who can't afford a lawyer?"

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