Thursday, March 14, 2013

What Nation Sends Poor Defendants to Trial Without an Attorney? - North Korea? Iran? United States?

Isn’t the Answer Obvious

There is nothing quite as basic to freedom and democracy as the right to have an attorney represent the accused at trial.  In America the system of justice is straight forward, a person is innocent until proven guilty; the burden of proof is on the government.

And the government of course has tremendous resources to bring against the accused.  So for the past 50 years the law of the land has been that anyone who cannot afford an attorney must be provided with on by the government.  The Supreme Court decision that established this, 9 to 0.

On March 18, 1963, the court ruled unanimously that Gideon's conviction was unconstitutional because he'd been denied his request for counsel.

Justice Hugo Black wrote that in our adversarial justice system, the "noble idea (that) every defendant stands equal before the law … cannot be realized if the poor man charged with a crime has to face his accusers without a lawyer."

So what’s the problem.  Easy answer, money.  State and local governments simply will not tax the populace sufficiently to provide support for legal services for the poor.

Al Flora makes his way through the Luzerne County Public Defenders office where files are stacked high due to the high volume of clients.(Photo: Aimee Dilger for USA TODAY)

That describes Luzerne County, which gets no state funds for public defenders. Last year, Flora's $2.7 million budget was cut 7%, and later — until a judge intervened — a hiring freeze blocked him from filling five lawyers' slots that were budgeted.

In six months, he turned away more than 500 applicants for legal counsel, an approach that antagonized county officials.

But the attitude of anti-tax Conservatives is that it is a waste of money to hire lawyers for the poor.  If they weren’t guilty they would not have been arrested, and the fact that they are poor means they certainly are criminals.  As for that “Constitutional” thingee, well that’s just an antiquated idea that has no place in modern society, the one where hundreds of millions are bestowed on sports teams for example.

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