Posted 8 months ago on March 19, 2013, 10:50 a.m. EST by GirlFriday
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Within the criminal defense bar, there is widespread agreement that Gideon's lofty promise has gone unfulfilled. The high court in a unanimous decision found that "lawyers in criminal courts are necessities, not luxuries." If a person facing a felony charge is too poor to hire a lawyer, the court ruled, the government is obligated to provide one for free. Subsequent decisions expanded the right to juvenile proceedings and certain misdemeanors.
To state and local governments, the ruling has amounted to a massive unfunded mandate, one that they have struggled with — and sometimes resisted — ever since. Take Wisconsin, where private lawyers who are hired to represent indigent defendants are paid $40 an hour — unchanged since 1978. Or Louisville, Ky., where public defenders are each assigned nearly 500 cases a year. Or Maryland, where a state court of appeals last year ruled defendants are entitled to counsel at bail hearings — but rather than coming up with $28 million to pay for it, the state Legislature repealed the law instead.
"We've failed tragically to realize [Gideon's] promise because of the unwillingness of state and local governments to adequately fund the defense function," said Steven Benjamin, president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. "The system is broken. It can't be relied upon to protect innocent people from conviction."
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