Resolution in Support of Public Defense

Summary

The right to counsel is a central principle embodied in the Bill of Rights. This resolution encourages states to ensure that all individuals accused of crimes are properly represented by counsel.

Resolution in Support of Public Defense

Resolution in Support of Public Defense

 

WHEREAS, the United States Constitution guarantees “[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right . . . to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense”;

WHEREAS, the United States Supreme Court and federal and state constitutions, guarantee all who are accused of a crime the right to the assistance of counsel at all critical stages of the proceedings;

WHEREAS, the overwhelming majority of those accused of a criminal offense lack the personal resources needed to hire counsel to challenge the government’s evidence or present their case, and thus require access to publicly funded defense services;

WHEREAS, a robust defense function protects both the individual and the community;

WHEREAS, effective and independent defenders can shine a light on government overreach and abuses of power and preserve the protections of the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments, protect the innocent from wrongful conviction, facilitate treatment, services, and other outcomes that reduce recidivism, and help ensure fair trials.

WHEREAS, the collateral consequences of even minor criminal charges creating long-lasting barriers to employment, education, and housing;

WHEREAS, excessive caseloads prevent even the most dedicated of defenders from having the time needed to properly and fully investigate the government’s accusations;

WHEREAS, inadequate compensation coupled with significant student debt prevents many skilled and committed attorneys from pursuing a career in public defense;

WHEREAS, assigned counsel rates that fail to keep pace with the basic costs of operating a law practice and fee structures that set limitations on compensation without regard to the needs of individual cases deter meaningful participation in public defense by the private bar;

WHEREAS, there are many jurisdictions in which inadequate support for pubic defense services causes individuals to languish in jail without counsel for prolonged periods, as well as many jurisdictions in which individuals enter guilty pleas without the benefit of counsel; and

WHEREAS, the fundamental principles of equality and justice cannot be fully realized under our adversarial system without a well-resourced public defense system and prompt access to effective assistance of counsel;

THEREFORE, LET IT BE IT RESOLVED:

Access to Public Defense Services:

That every person accused of a crime shall be guaranteed counsel at their first appearance before a judicial officer at which liberty is at stake or at which a plea of guilty to any criminal charge may be entered;

That public defense services shall be made available in all cases in which a criminal conviction could occur; and

That public defense services, including counsel and ancillary services, shall be provided to those who are financially unable to obtain effective representation without substantial hardship.

Effective Public Defense Delivery Systems:

That whenever a jurisdiction’s population, needs, and caseload warrant it, a public defense delivery system includes a public defender office as well as meaningful participation of the private bar and provides representation consistent with the best practices in the legal community;

That public defense delivery systems be adequately funded to ensure attorneys have reasonable workloads so as to allow them to provide ethical and competent representation pursuant to prevailing professional norms;

That public defense providers regularly receive relevant training;

That public defense providers have access to support services such as investigators, social workers, and experts; and

That compensation for public defense providers is sufficient to ensure the recruitment and retention of qualified and skilled advocates taking into consideration for public defenders the rates being paid to other government employees performing similar functions, and for court-appointed counsel the overhead costs and prevailing attorneys’ fees for the jurisdiction.

State Responsibility:

That state government bears the ultimate responsibility to protect the right to counsel, so while it may elect to delegate to localities, some or all decisions regarding structure, oversight, and funding, it is the state which must ensure there are sufficient resources, support, and structure for every community to have a constitutionally effective public defense delivery system.

Independence and Equality:

That to ensure the defense may fulfil its role in the adversarial system, the defense be insulated from undue influence, involvement and control by actors whose interests may be directly or indirectly adverse to the defense function. Supervision of the public defense system by the judiciary and the units of the government should be no greater than that which is exercised over the private bar; and

That in order to maintain a vibrant, healthy, and robust adversarial process the defense function be included as an equal and valued partner in the criminal justice system.