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Turning Celebrated Principles Into Reality
By Steven B. Bright
No constitutional right is celebrated so much in the abstract and observed
so little in reality as the right to counsel.
While leaders of the judiciary, legal profession and government give
speeches every Law Day about the essential role of lawyers in protecting the
individual rights of people accused of crimes, many states have yet to create
and fund adequately independent programs for providing legal representation. As
a result, some people — even people accused of felonies — enter guilty pleas
and are sentenced to imprisonment without any representation. Others
languish in jail for weeks or months — often for longer than any sentence they
would receive — before being assigned a lawyer. Many receive only perfunctory
representation — sometimes nothing more than hurried conversations with a
court-appointed lawyer outside the courtroom or even in open court — before
entering a guilty plea or going to trial. The poor person who is wrongfully
convicted may face years in prison
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