June 1, 2006
Fighting to Save the Fading Right to Counsel
2004 American Bar Association Report states:
[T]housands of persons are processed in America's courts every year either with no lawyer at all or with a lawyer who does not have the time, resources, or in some cases the inclination to provide effective representation. All too often, defendants plead guilty, even if they are innocent, without really understanding their legal rights or what is occurring. The fundamental right to a lawyer that Americans assume applies to everyone accused of criminal conduct effectively does not exists in practice for countless people across the United States.
In states such as Montana, Mississippi, and Alabama, there are reports of indigent clients spending from 5 to 13 months in prison before recieving a single contact from an attorney. Once a defendant finally meets with an attorney, the report states that many plead guilty within minutes or hours of the first meeting. For example, in Quitman County, Mississippi, 42% of the indigent defense cases were resolved by a guilty plea on the first day the part-time contract defender met the client.
While many turn a blind eye to the deprivation of counsel in such cases, New Orleans Judge Arthur L. Hunter Jr. has decided to fight for the Right to Counsel by granting petitions to free prisoners facing serious charges without counsel.
(Source: "Gideon's Silence", Loyola LA CrimProf Alexandra Natapoff) Story. . . [Mark Godsey]
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