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What Percentage of Defendants Use Public Defenders?

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Q:  Who picks up the tab for criminal defense in this country?

A:  You do.

One of the innovations of the Warren Court was its 1963 decision in Gideon v. Wainwright that accused felons have a right to counsel provided by the state.  Nine years later, in Argersinger v. Hamlin, the Court held that counsel must be provided whenever a criminal charge, whether or not denominated a felony, might result in imprisonment.

So who pays the bill?  I have not been able to find very recent statistics, but according to the PBS program "Presumed Guilty," using figures provided by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 1998, roughly 66 percent of all federal felony defendants were represented by public defenders or other publicly funded counsel. At the county level, in 1996, 82 percent of felony defendants in the 75 most populous counties used public defenders.

OK, next issue:

Q:  Does the criminal defense for which you're shelling out millions emphasize candid, straightforward, unvarnished truth telling?

A:  Don't get me started.  

5 Comments

If only the Court would overrule Gideon--then you'd be really happy!

I'm always pleased when someone I don't know and have never met tells me what will make me happy, but, hey, what the heck.

I was unable to see anything in my entry that would lead a person to conclude that I thought Gideon should be overruled, and you didn't cite anything, but if you'd like to now, I'm all ears.

If perchance you'd be interested in the truth, which I doubt, I thought Gideon was correctly decided (as did Justice Rehnquist). In addition, it was great for business. When I was in the USAO, I would sometimes think to myself, "So many defense lawyers, so little time."

BTW, if you want to make an argument as to why taxpayers should shell out millions fund the deceit that so often goes into criminal defense, I'm all ears.

It is true that criminals rarely pay for their defense in the US.

Most defendants are indigent and cannot afford to retain a private attorney. Even those, in my opinion, should be required to make at least a nominal payment.

My experience in federal court shows that the term "indigent" no longer has the meaning most taxpayers would recognize.

If one can attest to little or no current personal income, a federal defender will be appointed even if you reside in a $500,000 home with significant equity. A spouse's income and assets are often not considered.

Why shouldn't this defendant take a home equity loan to fund his defense rather than look to beleaguered taxpayers.

"If one can attest to little or no current personal income, a federal defender will be appointed even if you reside in a $500,000 home with significant equity. A spouse's income and assets are often not considered."

Incredible. Thanks for the info. I knew "indigent" didn't really mean what it used to mean, but I didn't know it had become this bad.

Gideon absolutely was not correctly decided. The right to counsel was the same as any other right--the right to exercise it, not the right to have it paid for. Now I don't go so far as to say that Gideon should be overruled, but I think it should be significantly pared back. I don't think illegal immigrants should be entitled to paid-for counsel, nor should career criminals who, in effect, have created their own indigency. I get that there are serious problems with having thousands upon thousands of pro se defendants, but that didn't justify the invention of this right out of whole cloth.

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