Public Defenders

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In the United States, the adversarial system of justice relies on ensuring a criminal defendant receives a fair trial. The sixth amendment gives defendants the right to legal representation in criminal trials even if they cannot afford one themselves. Each city and county in the United States ensures a defendant the right to counsel. There are different ways cities and counties across the United States provide representation for indigent defendants. One such approach to indigent defense is public defender programs and is a popular system used by many states today. Public defender programs have been around since the 1900’s but gained popularity throughout the years due to the many indigent defense cases. Historically, the right to counsel was only guaranteed in federal criminal court (Wice, 2005). A person charged with a crime in the state court did not have the right to legal representation. Law scholar Professor Mason Beaney explained this by saying, “only a few states guaranteed the right to appointed counsel…In most jurisdictions counsel was appointed in none but the most serious cases, often only when the crime was punishable by death” (Wice, 2005, p. 3). Many defendants, who were poor, illiterate, and uneducated had to face the justice system without legal assistance (Smith, 2004, p. 579). Los Angeles County started one of the first public defender programs in 1914, spreading slowly to other counties (Neubauer & Fradella, 2011, p. 176). By the 1960’s, less than a dozen states still refused to provide attorneys to defendants unable to afford one (Smith, 2004). There was a big change in 1963 when the landmark case Gideon v. Wainwright transformed the way state courts applied the right to counsel to indigent defend... ... middle of paper ... .... J., & Langton, L. (2010, Sep/Oct). A national assessment of public defender office caseloads []. Judicature, 94(2), 87-91. Retrieved from Neubauer, D. W., & Fradella, H. F. (2011). America’s courts and the criminal justice system (10th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. Smith, C. E. (2004). Public defenders. In T. Hall, U.S. Legal System (pp. 567-572-). [Ebscohost]. Retrieved from http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/ebookviewer/ebook U.S. Department of Justice. (2010). State public defender programs, 2007 (NCJ 228229). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Weiss, M. S. (2005). A Study of Public Defender Motivations. In Public Defenders: Pragmatic and Political Motivations to Represent the Indigent (pp. 1-10). [Ebscohost]. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/ Wice, P. B. (2005). Public Defenders and the American Justice System. Westport, CT: Praeger.
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