The American Criminal Justice System: How It Works, How It Doesn't , and How to Fix It

By Gerhard Falk | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
DEFENDING THE ACCUSED

DEFENDING THE INDIGENT

Public defenders are common in almost all U.S. jurisdictions at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Such has not always been the case. In 1932, in Powell v. Alabama, the U.S. Supreme Court interpreted the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to guarantee a right to counsel, that is, a lawyer, to anyone accused of a crime. Whereas those able to pay for a lawyer were always represented by counsel if they so wished, the poor who could not afford a lawyer had to face the prosecution alone.1 It was not until Clara Foltz (1849–1943), California’s first female lawyer, spoke at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 that the very idea of providing lawyers for the poor who could not afford legal representation was ever considered. Foltz spoke on the abuses then existing and on the rights of the accused.2 The actual appointments of public defenders came about slowly. In fact, not until the case of Gideon v. Wainwright, which the Supreme Court decided in 1963, was every criminal court in the country finally required to provide free counsel to indigent defendants. The lawyers appointed and paid by the court are called “public defenders.”3

The American Bar Association report in 2004 concerning the representation of indigent defendants in criminal proceedings concluded that many thousands of poor people are convicted every year either without any legal representation at all or with a lawyer who represents the defendant inadequately. The report warned of the erosion of the integrity of the criminal justice system.4 An example of the inadequacy of a public defense is the case of Ronald Rompilla. He was convicted of murder and given the death penalty. On appeal to the Supreme Court, five justices found the defense inadequate because the public defenders never told the jury that the defendant had a horrendous childhood, that he was an alcoholic, and that he had been diagnosed as suffering from mental illness.5

Numerous examples of similar cases are recorded in the annals of American jurisprudence. Not only are there numerous defendants

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The American Criminal Justice System: How It Works, How It Doesn't , and How to Fix It
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Introduction vii
  • Chapter 1 - The American Police 1
  • Chapter 2 - A Brief History of Criminal Prosecution in the United States 23
  • Chapter 3 - Prosecuting Violent Crime and Sex Offenses 45
  • Chapter 4 - Prosecuting Wwhite- Collar Crime 69
  • Chapter 5 - Defending the Accused 89
  • Chapter 6 - The American Jury 109
  • Chapter 7 - Courts and Judges 129
  • Chapter 8 - The Prison-Industrial Complex 151
  • Chapter 9 - Probation and Parole 173
  • Chapter 10 - The Death Penalty- Non Omnis Moriar 193
  • Epilogue 215
  • Bibliography 221
  • Index 241
  • About the Author 251
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