April 25, 2005


Preserving the Right to a Lawyer (NY Times, 4/25/05)

Criminal defendants who cannot afford a lawyer have the right to have one appointed to represent them. In Michigan, however, some poor defendants are denied appointed counsel at a critical stage: when they want to challenge the sentence imposed on them. The Supreme Court hears arguments today in a challenge to this rule. It should order Michigan to provide defendants in this position with appointed lawyers.

The Supreme Court ruled in the landmark 1963 case of Gideon v. Wainwright that poor defendants have a constitutional right to appointed counsel. The court has held that this right generally extends to a defendant's first appeal after a criminal conviction.

In virtually every state, poor defendants are appointed lawyers for their first appeals. But in Michigan, they do not have the right to a lawyer on appeal if they have pleaded guilty. Normally, defendants who plead guilty do not appeal, but there are times when they do, like when they want to challenge the sentence that they receive. In the case the court is hearing today, a mentally impaired defendant had to appeal without a lawyer when he was given a prison sentence of up to 30 years that he maintains was improperly calculated.

For the right to counsel to be meaningful, it must apply to the initial trial and to one appeal before a different judge.

The Constitution provides you with the right to be assisted by Counsel, not a right to one.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 25, 2005 7:51 AM

what no right to cable tv?

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at April 28, 2005 12:40 AM

Orrin, have you read 'Constitutional History' by S.B. Chrimes?

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 28, 2005 6:10 PM


Posted by: oj at April 28, 2005 7:41 PM
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