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The New Frontier in Indigent Defense Big Firms in State Trial Courts
By Rick Jones
A Broken System
The problem of insufficient resources thwarting meaningful representation for indigent defendants is not a new one. In 1982, to mark the 20th anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright1 — a landmark case for indigent defendants — the ABA’s Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defense conducted hearings on the state of indigent defense across the country and found much of what they found in 2003, when the committee convened hearings again for the same purpose:
[A] severe lack of funding; excessive and rising public defender caseloads coupled with inadequate support personnel; insufficient attorney compensation, leading to increased pressure to plead cases; arbitrary and capricious payments to assigned counsel, failures to inform of the right to counsel; acceptance of improper waivers of counsel in misdemeanor cases; and the increased use of contracts for defense services based primarily on cost, not quality considerations.2
After more than 40 years of Gideon, state gove
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