Public defenders need support

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In 1963, in Gideon v. Wainwright, Associate Justice Hugo Black wrote, “in our adversary system of criminal justice, any person haled into court, who is too poor to hire a lawyer, cannot be assured a fair trial unless counsel is provided for him.” Black’s well-considered conclusion, over fifty years old, holds up every bit as strong today because, if you think about it, on a daily basis, it is public defenders leading the charge – in courtrooms, in conference rooms, in correctional facilities, in the streets (at best, with the aid of an overworked investigator), or even in coffee houses and on barstools with prosecutors (they’ll drink with anyone, if that’s what it takes) – fighting tooth and nail against the government’s relentless efforts to erode, even erase, inalienable constitutional rights and freedoms of the poor.

So, please, I implore you, don’t forget to support your state and federal public defenders. How? By (1) calling, writing, emailing, and otherwise making sure your elected representatives in congress and in local and state legislatures know, you demand that public defender systems be fully and adequately funded, (2) donating to long-established champions of liberty like the National Association for Public Defense, the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, and Gideon’s Promise.

And, (3) if you are young or old, smart, passionate, and believe all people, rich or poor, black or white (or any hue), guilty or innocent, deserve justice, volunteer. Public defender offices need you. With little money and no police force at their disposal like prosecutors have, public defender offices desperately need help investigating alleged and actual crimes, and they’ll train you. Also, they need administrative help, interns, pre-law students, law students, law professors, social workers, private sector attorneys, mental health professionals and expert witnesses to donate (or heavily discount) their time, their energy, their intellectual power, and their passion for justice, in defense of the poor.

The experience of history, law, and common sense demonstrate that the constitutional right to the effective assistance of counsel is, and always will be, only as strong as our collective will as freedom-loving, compassionate and conscientious Americans, to make it.

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