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By Marissa Elkins
Indigent Defense columns.
Gideon-Evading Machinations and The Costs of Defense
Every day in Massachusetts courts, criminal defendants in need of representation — representation supposedly guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and Article 12 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights — are deemed indigent, but “able to contribute.” The determination that they are indigent is often made because they require public assistance to feed and house themselves and their families. Sadly, Massachusetts makes the determination that indigent persons are “able to contribute” in spite of their need for that assistance because those benefits are counted as income for the purposes of assigning counsel. Thus, Massachusetts defendants living on the margins are routinely asked to dip into limited family resources to pay a $150 - $300 legal counsel fee. In my experience, often judges “waive” the fee at the outset of a case for only the most destitute of defendants (people who surely qualify for benefits, but for various
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