~ failing to serve indigent defendants ~

The Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants (SCLAID) of
the American Bar Association (ABA), produced a report, Gideon’s Broken Promise: America’s Continuing Quest for Equal Justice, based on testimony at public hearings held in 2003.

Recommendations for improving the systems for indigent defense are detailed in the report. The conclusions arrived at by the Committee:

• Forty years after Gideon v. Wainwright, indigent defense in the United States remains in a state of crisis, resulting in a system that lacks fundamental fairness and places poor persons at constant risk of wrongful conviction.

• Funding for indigent defense services is shamefully inadequate.

• Lawyers who provide representation in indigent defense systems sometimes violate their professional duties by failing to furnish competent representation.

• Lawyers are not provided in numerous proceedings in which a right to counsel exists in accordance with the Constitution and/or state law. Too often, prosecutors seek to obtain waivers of counsel and guilty pleas from unrepresented accused persons, while judges accept and sometimes even encourage waivers of counsel that are not knowing, voluntary, intelligent, and on the record.

• Judges and elected officials often exercise undue influence over indigent defense attorneys, threatening the professional independence of the defense function.

• Indigent defense systems frequently lack basic oversight and accountability, impairing the provision of uniform, quality services.

• Efforts to reform indigent defense systems have been most successful when they involve multi-faceted approaches and representatives from a broad spectrum of interests.

• The organized bar too often has failed to provide the requisite leadership in the indigent defense area.

• Model approaches to providing quality indigent defense services exist in this country, but these models often are not adequately funded and cannot be replicated elsewhere absent sufficient financial support.

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