I am not a lawyer, and am presenting my opinion based on what I can discern from on-line articles. Input and clarifications from any attorneys reading this blog are encouraged.
While our nation was founded on the idealistic principal of “justice for all”, and we continually strive toward that goal, it has never been truly attained. The wealthy can take advantage of high-powered attorneys to help them skirt the law, while the poor obtain their “equal justice” by working with taxpayer-supported public defenders. Often this works well, with defendants receiving a fair trial, but clearly there are limits. A rich defendant has almost unlimited resources to spend on obtaining exculpatory evidence and judicial theatrics (remember the OJ trial?). An indigent defendant’s resources are limited, even with free counsel. Now, a new thumb on the scale of justice is making it even more difficult for the poor.
An article in USA Today reports that some states are now restricting public defender services. In the landmark Gideon vs Wainright case, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutional right to an attorney for felony cases. The participating justices in a New Jersey Supreme Court case on a related issue have ruled unanimously that legal representation for the poor must be provided in any case that might result in incarceration.
The USA Today article goes on, stating that some states are imposing fees for public defender services. Defendants are either coerced to waive their right to an attorney or forced to amass huge debts. Clearly, in a country where almost one person in one hundred is incarcerated, the “rehabilitation” aspect of prison life has been subsumed by a “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” attitude. Elimination of adequate defense for all, combined with the Tea Party’s drive to eviscerate defendants’ Miranda rights, and the growing initiative to privatize prisons under for-profit companies, simply increases the burden on the taxpayer, adds to corporate coffers, and does not address the root cause of the problem.