Gideon Alert: a conservative speaks out for public defense

BY David Carroll on Tuesday, March 30, 2010 at 12:53 PM

The National Law Journal published a very thought-provoking opinion piece from Washington & Lee Law Professor and Cato Institute Adjunct Scholar Erik Luna.  Professor Luna testifed as minority witness at both the first and second hearings on indigent defense conducted by the United States House Judiciary Committee, Sub-Committee on Crime, Terrorism & Homeland Security in March and June 2009.

Professor Luna is unquestionably committed to the right to counsel and to speaking out on behalf of the voiceless.  In discussing the crisis of indigent defense in America, he writes: "The problem is entirely of the state's own making and within its control.  State lawmakers determine what will be a crime in the first place and the attached punishment, while state agents choose which individuals will be  propelled through the criminal just system."  And he observes, "But when jurisdictions wield their awesome power to deprive liberty, they cannot disavow the attendant responsibilties."   He suggests possible solutions, and concludes: "Whatever path is taken, delinquent jurisdictions must be held responsible for their decisions, not absolved from their constitutional debts.  The states owe indigent defendants competent legal representation.  it's time to pay up."

Perhaps traditional conservatives, libertarians, and progressives can come together to form a united front.  Together, we can promote actions that decrease the need for public defenders in the first place (reclassification, diversion, mediation) and advocate for Congress to enforce the right to counsel through the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice and through private citizens.