Copyright (c) 1997 New York University School of Law
Annual Survey of American Law
ARTICLE: NEITHER EQUAL NOR JUST: THE RATIONING AND DENIAL OF LEGAL SERVICES TO THE POOR WHEN LIFE AND LIBERTY ARE AT STAKE
1997 Ann. Surv. Am. L. 783
STEPHEN B. BRIGHT
The ration of legal services for the poor person accused of a crime has been remarkably thin in most of the United States. Despite the constitutional right to counsel established over thirty-five years ago in Gideon v. Wainwright, 1 many states have yet to provide capable lawyers to represent the accused, and the resources necessary to conduct investigations and present a defense. A poor person may be without counsel when bail is set or denied, and during critical times for pretrial investigation. He or she may receive only perfunctory representation - sometimes nothing more than hurried conversations with a court-appointed lawyer outside the courtroom or even in open court - before entering a guilty plea or going to trial. The poor person who is wrongfully convicted may face years in prison, or even execution, without any legal assistance to pursue avenues of post-conviction review. While in prison, he or she may endure practices and conditions which violate the Constitution, but have no access to a lawyer to seek remedies for those violations.
In contrast, the person with adequate resources may secure a lawyer who will make a case for and perhaps obtain release on bail, work closely with the client in conducting an immediate and thorough investigation, present a vigorous defense at trial, pursue all available avenues of post-conviction relief, and challenge any constitutional violations that occur in prison. Attorney General Janet Reno recently observed that if justice is available only to those who can pay for ...
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