The Champion

January/February 2003 , Page 6 

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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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