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Counsel for the Poor: The Death Sentence Not for the Worst Crime but for the Worst Lawyer

NCJ Number
Yale Law Journal Volume: 103 Issue: 7 Dated: (May 1994) Pages: 1835-1883
S B Bright
Date Published
49 pages
Despite the U.S. Supreme Court Powell decision, entitling indigent defendants facing the death penalty to a court- appointed lawyer, and the Gideon decision, reaffirming the importance of competent counsel, poor people accused of capital crimes are often defended by lawyers who lack the skills, resources, and commitment to properly handle their case.
This article argues that arbitrary results, particularly in capital cases, often result from inadequacy of counsel. The pervasive inadequacy of counsel for the poor stems from the lack of a functioning adversary system in the U.S., the lack of indigent defense programs, the lack of compensation for court-appointed lawyers, the role of judges in appointing and overseeing mediocrity and incompetence, and the system's tolerance for a minimal standard of legal representation. The author maintains that members of the judiciary and the bar have failed to keep the promise of Gideon and, as a result, the situation has deteriorated so that the right to counsel for poor people has been further eroded. The situation can only be remedied through the response of individual lawyers and the imposition of limits on the power of the courts to appoint incompetent counsel. 242 notes


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