The Latest

THE LATEST

THE LATEST THINKING

THE LATEST THINKING

The opinions of THE LATEST’s guest contributors are their own.

Justice and the Sixth Amendment

W. Scott Cole

Posted on June 17, 2018 01:12

0 user

More than 50 years ago, in a case named Gideon v. Wainwright, the United States Supreme Court recognized the Sixth Amendment right of every criminal defendant who lacks the means to hire an attorney to be effectively represented by counsel. How well has that Supreme Court ruling been applied?

When the Supreme Court ruled in Gideon v. Wainwright, it created a crisis in the court system. How do you provide defendants with adequate counsel when they don’t have the money to provide their own? Enter the Public Defender’s Office, which was created in one form or another in most states shortly after the ruling was handed down.

Almost immediately, the problems of “effective assistance of counsel” became a valid issue, one that the courts do not have the means to deal with. The bar for proving ineffective assistance is so high that attorneys that have fallen asleep at trial, showed up in the courtroom drunk, and were aged and legally senile have been found to have provided effective assistance.

It is only in the cases that the representation was most deficient that the courts find for a defendant who raises an ineffective assistance claim. This is because there are so many claims that are valid. Some judges have stated on the record that if they ruled properly on every ineffective assistance claim that came before them, they would almost empty the prisons.

The reasons for this are far more than I can set out here, but there are two that are the most glaring. Foremost among them is funding. Public Defender Offices are woefully underfunded. Many offices do not have the money to hire investigators to interview prosecution witnesses or  defendants’ alibis. There is no money to conduct evidence testing on their own, so they have to rely on the tests done by the prosecution and hope the prosecutor turns over all the test results to them and not just the ones favorable to the prosecution.

Public Defenders are woefully underpaid compared to attorneys in private practice and prosecutors both, with the states hiring those who graduated at the top of the class and paying them accordingly. They also find themselves up against an office that has the funding to hire the best investigators and testing laboratories. A high profile case like the Aurora Theater shooting here in Colorado a few years ago can literally gut the budget of a Public Defender’s Office for an entire year or more.

The second major reason ineffective assistance is such a problem is the caseloads of the attorneys. I believe that most people who sign on as a Public Defender do so with high ideals. They truly intend to defend their clients to the best of their ability, freeing the innocent and ensuring that the guilty are found guilty in a court of law that represents the best of American justice. Then reality hits. Most of them are turned into paper pushers. With few resources and such a heavy caseload that they can spend very little time on each case, representation usually starts and ends with pursuing a plea bargain, regardless of guilt or innocence.

Although a poor attorney is far superior to no attorney, we are still far from the ideal of a level playing field that the Supreme Court intended.

W. Scott Cole

Posted on June 17, 2018 01:12

Comments

comments powered by Disqus
Source: Politico

Christy Perry, a Republican state representative and co-owner of a gun shop in Boise, regularly travels with her husband...

THE LATEST THINKING

Video Site Tour

The Latest
The Latest

Subscribe to THE LATEST Newsletter.

The Latest
The Latest

Share this TLT through...

The Latest