Bring balance back to justice

Excerpt from an article in the March 27, 2013 online edition of The Spectrum & Daily News:

On the 50th anniversary of the landmark decision Gideon v. Wainwright, we may rightly question why the phrase “If you can’t afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you,” continues to ring hollow for many citizens accused of crime.

Police officers are not obligated to pursue every alleged violation of the law they investigate. Prosecutors possess the discretion to dismiss every charge that crosses their desk. Many cases don’t advance past the initial complaint.

But when they do choose to prosecute a jail-eligible offense, the government they act on behalf of is constitutionally-obligated to provide legal representation for accused citizens lacking the resources to obtain a lawyer’s services. Although good data is unavailable, recent studies conservatively estimate that most citizens accused of crime qualify for appointed counsel.

My role as a defense attorney is to be the “guiding hand of counsel at every step in the proceedings” involving my client, as the Sixth Amendment and a fair and due process requires.

In its 2011 report, “Failing Gideon,” the ACLU of Utah highlighted the dramatic disparity between the resources budgeted for prosecuting, as compared to defending, the indigent. And as the NACDL noted in its 2009 report, “Minor Crimes, Massive Waste,” the widespread failure to provide counsel in misdemeanor cases persists. That includes cities and towns in Utah.

Read the full article here.

NOTE: The complete paragraph submitted to The Spectrum & Daily News, which was edited for space in the published article, is below.

Overcriminalization hurts our community when too many citizens have a criminal record, which can impact one’s ability to pass a background check to obtain work, housing, and other opportunities. The resources Utahns spend to defend against or expunge a criminal investigation or conviction from their records may be better spent investing in a local business, buying a local product or service, or helping a loved one.

A lawyer appointed to represent an indigent defendant is not obligated to pursue many collateral matters related to a criminal prosecution, such as request a Driver License Division hearing following an arrest for DUI, or petition for the expungement of records of arrest, detention, investigation, or conviction. Consider contacting an attorney if such consequences may apply to a criminal prosecution involving you or a loved one.

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