November 4, 2012
Great symposium at Washington & Lee on Gideon a half-century later
As detailed in this posting, the folks at Washington & Lee School of Law have on tap at the end of this week a terrific symposium titled "Gideon at 50: Reassessing the Right to Counsel." Here are the details via the posting:
Fifty years ago the landmark case Gideon v. Wainwright established the right to counsel for criminal defendants. An upcoming symposium at Washington and Lee School of Law will explore the legacy of this case, its impact on the criminal justice system, and the future of the right to counsel.
The symposium is scheduled for Nov. 8-9 in the Millhiser Moot Court Room, Sydney Lewis Hall on the grounds of Washington and Lee University. The event is free and open to the public.
W&L professor and symposium co-organizer J.D. King, who directs the school’s Criminal Justice Clinic, notes that this is not a celebration of the case, but rather a cold, hard assessment of what has gone right and what has gone wrong since Gideon became law.
“One of the failings of the criminal justice system is that while we do provide lawyers to people who can’t afford their own, there is no meaningful check on how good those lawyers are,” says King. “The reality of indigent defense is that in many cases defendants get a lawyer in physical presence only.”
Another problem, says King, is how Gideon and the right to counsel has been limited to apply only to so-called “serious” cases, that is, cases that could result in incarceration. However, there are more serious consequences that can result from a misdemeanor conviction now than there were when Gideon was decided.
“You can get deported, kicked out of your housing, lose student aid, not a get a job because of a background check, or wind up on the sex offender registry, all for misdemeanors for which you were not entitled to counsel,” says King.
The symposium is especially timely, adds King, as the fiscal crisis of the last several years has put increased strain on funding for public defender systems. Indeed, in many states, including Virginia, defendants eventually bear the burden of the cost of their attorney, which can force them to waive their right to counsel from the outset.
The symposium will bring together scholars and practitioners representing a range of views on the issues. Symposium attendees include Norman Reimer, executive director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and Robin Steinberg, founder of the visionary defense support service The Bronx Defenders, as well as leading academics from law schools around the country.
The symposium is sponsored by the W&L Law Review, the Frances Lewis Law Center, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Foundation for Criminal Justice. A complete list of panelists, symposium schedule and registration information is available online at this link.
Timely New York Times piece on felon disenfranchisementToday's New York Times, the last one before the latest "most important election ever," has this effective editorial headlined "Wrongly Turning Away Ex-Offenders." Here are excerpts:
The United States maintains a shortsighted and punitive set of laws, some of them dating back to Reconstruction, denying the vote to people who have committed felonies. They will bar about 5.85 million people from voting in this year’s election.
In the states with the most draconian policies — including Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi and Virginia — more than 7 percent of the adult population is barred from the polls, sometimes for life. Nationally, nearly half of those affected have completed their sentences, including parole or probation.
Policies that deny voting rights to people who have paid their debt to society offend fundamental tenets of democracy. But the problem is made even worse by state and local election officials so poorly informed about the law that they misinform or turn away people who have a legal right to vote....
A 2005 study by the Sentencing Project, a Washington research and advocacy group, found that 37 percent of public officials surveyed in 10 states either misstated a central provision of the voter eligibility law or were unsure about what the law said. Disenfranchisement and restoration policies represent a kind of “crazy quilt” of strictures that differ not just among states, but among counties, cities and towns as well. Some states even ban people convicted of misdemeanors from voting. With so much confusion among those who administer the laws, it is no surprise that people who are legally entitled to vote either don’t try out of fear that they would be committing a crime or are wrongly turned away.