Defender Theme: Justice Under Construction: Building Blocks for the Effective
Assistance of Counsel
The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution states: “In criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right… to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.” In Gideon v. Wainwright, the Supreme Court of the United States unanimously held that a poor person accused of a serious crime was entitled to the appointment of defense counsel at state expense. In Re Gault built upon the Supreme Court’s decision by extending to children the same rights as adults by providing counsel to the indigent child charged in juvenile delinquency proceedings. Likewise the right was extended to all state misdemeanor proceedings where there is a potential loss of liberty in Argersinger v. Hamlin.
Almost 50 years after the decision in Gideon, the realization, implementation and enforcement of the constitutional right to counsel has been slow to develop and seems to have regressed in recent years. Many defense programs are compromised by a lack of independence and inadequate funding, resulting in excessive caseloads, high turnover, and a lack of technology, training and other resources necessary to provide quality representation for clients.
Even after the 2010 Department of justice Indigent Defense Symposium, where the Attorney General of the United States Eric Holder observed that “…we have a very serious problem on our hands,” consistent and meaningful change has been difficult.
We in the defender community must commit ourselves to a methodical, factual and consistent construction of the household of justice. Despite the apparent empathy of the Attorney General and the optimism that flowed from his speeches and comments, the defense community, for many reasons, has been unable to make significant progress in fulfilling the promise of Gideon, weakening the foundation for that house.
The objective of this year’s Defender Track is to provide a defender construction plan or blueprint, if you will, by considering the many challenges facing defense systems and providing building blocks for planning, collecting, analyzing and reporting of data necessary to reinforce the foundation upon which justice is built. Through the National Defender Leadership Institute (NDLI), the Defender Track will offer sessions that will develop and enhance the capacity for leadership of both new and experienced defenders that will make the promise of Gideon a reality.
We invite your RFP submissions to assist us in devising topics, recommending presenters and offering the best plan for this construction project—Building on our Legacy.
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