National Committee on the Right to Counsel
"The right of one charged with crime to counsel may not be deemed fundamental and essential to fair trials in some counrties, but it is in ours. From the very beginning, our state and national constitutions and laws have laid great emphasis on procedural and substantive safeguards designed to assure fair trials before impartial tribunals in which every defendant stands equal before the law."
--United States Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black,
Gideon V. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963)
In the landmark case Gideon v. Wainwright, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the fundamental role that legal representation plays in a fair criminal justice system. In this case, the Justices unanimously concluded that states have a constitutional obligation under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to provide lawyers to people who can't afford them. According to the decision, "[t]he right of an indigent defendant in a criminal trial to have the assistance of counsel is a fundamental right essential to a fair trial, and petitioner's trial and conviction without the assistance of counsel violated the Fourteenth Amendment."
The right to counsel is the most fundamental procedural safeguard to assure a fair trial in which the government and the accused stand equal before the law. Unfortunately, there is pervasive evidence that Gideon's constitutional promise is not being fulfilled in many states and counties around the country. Some fail to provide adequate funds, standards, training and staffing for public defender offices. Other areas do not have public defender offices and instead contract with the lowest bidder to provide representation for defendants who cannot afford lawyers. There are even jurisdictions where some defendants are not provided with lawyers, even though the Constitution requires it.
About the Committee
The Constitution Project and the National Legal Aid & Defender Association have brought together an extraordinary group of Americans, those with experience as judges, prosecutors, defenders, victim advocates, law enforcers and policymakers, to examine whether poor defendants are being provided with competent, experienced lawyers who have the necessary resources to defend them, and to create consensus recommendations for any necessary reforms.
The honorary chair of the bipartisan committee is the Honorable Walter Mondale, former Vice President of the United States and Attorney General for the state of Minnesota. Three committee co-chairs bring diverse experiences as a president of the National District Attorneys Association, a federal appeals judge, and a state Supreme Court Justice. The 16 committee members will study the legal and ethical requirements for adequate criminal defense representation
10 Principles for Quality Representation
In February 2002, the American Bar Association adopted a set of 10 principles, which "constitute the fundamental criteria to be met for a public defense delivery system to deliver effective and efficient, high quality, ethical, conflict-free representation to accused persons who cannot afford to hire an attorney." The purpose of the Ten Principles of a Public Defense Delivery System is to distill the existing voluminous national standards for indigent defense systems down to their most basic elements into a succinct form that busy officials and policymakers can readily review and apply.
Review of Past Indigent Defense Reports (msaccess, 7 Mb)