Wednesday, April 15, 2009
The American legal system guarantees "equal justice under law." Those words, carved in stone on the facade of the Supreme Court, are a constitutional promise that everyone will have the same opportunity for justice.
But a new report by the bipartisan Constitution Project says the United States has broken that promise for poor people accused of crimes. The report is the most in-depth study of indigent defense in decades.
The Gideon Decision
In a hallway of a law firm in downtown Washington, a copy of a handwritten petition hangs framed on the wall. It's two pages, side by side. A stamp at the top says: "January 8, 1962, Office of the Clerk, Supreme Court." A signature at the bottom says, "Clarence Earl Gideon."
On Tuesday morning, Abe Krash stood looking at the petition, remembering a case that he worked on more than 45 years ago. "This eventually led to the opinion and decision by the Supreme Court in the Gideon case," he said.
Abe Krash was a young attorney on the case. It's now considered one of the most important decisions of the 20th century. As Krash describes it, the ruling "held that every person in this country who is tried on a criminal charge is entitled to the assistance of a lawyer, regardless of his financial condition. If he's too poor to hire a lawyer, he's entitled to have one appointed for him by the government."
The Gideon decision helped establish the system of public defenders across the country. Krash returned to his old law firm Tuesday for the release of the report on the state of that system.
'A Basic Constitutional Right'
"It does not paint a pretty picture," said Tim Lewis, one of the report's authors.
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]