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October 4, 2018

Massive new report on the state of federal criminal defense by Ad Hoc Committee to Review the Criminal Justice Act

Released today is this 300+-page report that should be of interest to anyone who follows the federal criminal justice system.  The report is titled simply 2017 Report of the Ad Hoc Committee to Review the Criminal Justice Act, and here are some excerpts from the report's executive summary:

This Committee was tasked to study one of the most fundamental of rights in America, the right of an accused person to legal counsel.  Enshrined in the Constitution under the Sixth Amendment, the right to assistance of counsel is a pillar of our adversarial system of justice and our government....

Chief Justice of the United States John G. Roberts, Jr. tasked this Committee with studying the current quality of public defense in federal courts nationwide provided under the auspices of the Criminal Justice Act — groundbreaking legislation passed in 1963 and expanded in 1970.  That the United States has a fully developed system of public defense at the federal level is evidence of considerable progress in making the Sixth Amendment right to counsel real in practice.... While it has been decades since people charged with crimes — in many cases facing life-altering punishments — faced prosecutor, judge and jury alone, representation by a skilled and devoted advocate with sufficient resources to mount a vigorous defense is far from guaranteed.  Indeed, the quality of defense appears to be highly uneven across the country and from case to case within districts.

Fully 90 percent of defendants in federal court cannot afford to hire their own attorney.  Justice in their cases, and indeed the future course of their lives, depends on the quality of the system that provides lawyers to represent them.  The subject of the Committee’s Report is the examination of that system’s successes and failures, as well as a course of action for improving it....

It was only in studying the federal defender system as a whole and hearing from witnesses across the country that the members of this Committee have come to the unanimous conclusion that despite the best efforts of all parties involved in delivering effective representation under the Sixth Amendment, the current structure for providing public defense results in disparities in the quality of representation that have serious consequences for some defendants.  The Committee hopes its report illuminates the scope and nature of these problems and underlying structural flaws from which they arise — and makes a persuasive case for meaningful change.

October 4, 2018 at 08:01 PM | Permalink


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