"Ten Principles" Are Key To Creating And Improving Effective Public Defense Systems
By Robert E. Hirshon, President
American Bar Association
A criminal defendant's right to a lawyer has been a bedrock principle of our criminal justice system since 1963, when the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark decision in Gideon v. Wainright, holding that, "The right of one charged with a crime to counsel may not be deemed fundamental and essential to fair trials in some countries, but it is in ours." Yet for this right to be truly meaningful, the legal representation provided to everyone, including indigent defendants, must be efficient and effective.
Unfortunately, the reality is that public defenders in many jurisdictions are overworked and underfunded, resulting in legal representation of compromised quality. Policy-makers in jurisdictions across the country are beginning to heed calls to reexamine the system. These officials may find guidance in the "Ten Principles of a Public Defense Delivery System," adopted by the American Bar Association earlier this month at its Midyear Meeting in Philadelphia. The Ten Principles are a practical guide for government officials and others involved in the creation, funding, and improvement of public defense systems.
They represent an effort to sift through the various sets of national standards and present, in a clear and concise form, the fundamental criteria for an adequate public defender system. These underlying principles are absolutely crucial in designing a system that provides effective and efficient, high quality, ethical, conflict-free legal representation for criminal defendants who are unable to afford a lawyer.
The Ten Principles are:
The ABA's "Ten Principles of a Public Defense Delivery System" will provide quick and easy, yet still reliable and accurate, guidance needed by policy-makers in jurisdictions across the country to ensure that the fundamental right to counsel is made a reality with high-quality representation.