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50 Years After a Landmark Supreme Court Decision, Problems Still Persists for Defending the Poor

By Lawayne Childrey | Published 18 Mar 2013 06:11pm | comments
March 18, 1963 the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the constitution requires states to provide attorneys to indigent defendants.

Serious problems still persist in indigent defense cases 50 years after the U.S. Supreme Court  guaranteed a criminal defense lawyer for defendants who can’t afford one. MPB's Lawayne Childrey reports on the effects still being felt by Mississippi's poor.

In June of 1961, Clarence Gideon was arrested for allegedly stealing in the state of Florida. He couldn't afford an attorney and none was provided for him. Two years later the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the constitution requires states to provide attorneys to indigent defendants. But Jackson Attorney Jimmy Robertson says fifty years after the court’s ruling it's still difficult to ensure a fair trial for those using public defenders.

"Because there are plenty of resources, facilities and personnel available to the prosecution to help them develop the case to present at trial. My concern is that the poor lawyer who gets appointed to defend someone under the Gideon doctrine, he doesn’t have access to that same level of investigative capabilities."

Tucker Carrington is  Director of the Mississippi Innocence Project  at the University of Mississippi School of Law. He says he also believes that the 1963 Supreme Court ruling has not lived up to its intent.

"There's just far too many examples of criminal defense lawyers who are not standing as champions for their clients against a hostile world which is what they are suppose to do."

In Mississippi  taxpayer funded public defenders often face huge case loads and are under the jurisdiction of local county judges. That's why Leslie Lee,  Public Defender for the state of Mississippi is advocating overhauling the system to give public defenders  the same independence as state prosecutors.   

"Most of the time the senior circuit judge will appoint the public defender. But in the back of that public defenders mind they've got to worry about their job. And that's the main thing we've got to strive for is to make sure the public defender is independent. That's the only way to be as zealous as you can for your client without worrying about any kind of retaliation."

It is estimated that nearly 90 percent of all criminal court defendants in Mississippi are represented by public defenders. Lawayne Childrey, MPB News.

 

 

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March 18, 1963 the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the constitution requires states to provide attorneys to indigent defendants.


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