The U.S. Constitution provides that everyone who is accused of a crime has the right to an attorney. If a defendant can’t afford an attorney the state should provide them with an attorney.
However, as a recent lawsuit reveals, the truth is that Oregon, like many other states, doesn’t always adequately protect the rights of indigent defendants by appointing them a defense attorney.
A group of civil rights attorneys filed the lawsuit on behalf of four defendants who they say have been denied their right to a court-appointed attorney. The lawsuit seeks for the court to appoint attorneys for the defendants or to dismiss the charges against them.
According to the lawsuit, these four defendants are representative of a statewide problem. According to the Oregon Judicial Department, the state currently has more than 800 people facing criminal charges without the benefit of a court-appointed attorney. More than 40 of these people were in custody.
The Sixth Amendment
The right to an attorney comes from the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which lays out important protections for criminal defendants. In 1963, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the Sixth Amendment gives defendants the right to a court-appointed attorney if they cannot afford an attorney.
Over the past 59 years, states have repeatedly failed to live up to this obligation.
Many public defenders do exemplary work every day, but they must often do so against incredible odds. In Oregon and other states, public defenders have seen their budgets stretched thin and their caseloads piled high.
For defendants, this can lead to very dangerous circumstances. It’s hard to defend your rights if you don’t have an attorney who has the time to devote to your case.