Persons accused of crimes who, due to their poverty, are not able to adequately provide for their own defense.
Although social scientists have long debated the causes of crime, it is beyond dispute that the impact of the criminal justice system is felt most heavily among the most economically disadvantaged members of society. In city after city, young, unemployed men dominate the criminal dockets. Nearly two out of three incarcerated individuals lack a high school diploma, and less than 8 percent have ever attended college. Controversy concerns whether poverty causes crime or merely funnels deviants into relatively unremunerative and highly risky kinds of criminal activity, where they are more likely to be apprehended. Another theory is that these crime statistics reflect institutional class biases in the criminal justice system, such as the inability of the impoverished defendant to mount an adequate defense. The commitment to equal justice under law is severely tested by a criminal justice system that imposes further disabilities on the most disadvantaged members of the community.
The Supreme Court noted in Griffin v. Illinois
The principle of Gideon was extended to other areas of the criminal process but not comprehensively. Escobedo v. Illinois
Perhaps the clearest example of the Court’s lessened favor of the appointment of counsel is Argersinger v. Hamlin
An issue yet to be effectively addressed involves the adequacy of counsel for poor defendants, whether appointed or retained. Many defendants are represented by court-appointed public defenders. Despite their talent and good intentions, public defenders tend to operate under the pressure of unrealistic caseloads and inadequate funding. Defendants who, like the Scottsboro men, first encounter their attorney just before trial are not unusual. Without time or resources to conduct a thorough investigation of the case, public defenders are often reduced to arranging a plea bargain. The economics of criminal defense work often place the private attorney in a similar position.
If access to judicial process is fundamental to the fair administration of criminal justice, it would be expected that the Court would facilitate the indigent’s access to its own forum. The Court permits petitioners for certiorari to file in forma pauperis, or as a pauper. The resulting waiver of the Court’s modest filing fees may be more symbolic than substantive, since less than 1 percent of such petitions are accepted for review. In the 1990’s the numbers of in forma pauperis petitioners was the fastest growing segment of the Court’s caseload, which came to account for more than half of all petitioners. Many of these are filed by prisoners alleging deficiencies in their convictions. Most are frivolous, although an occasional in forma pauperis petition, like that in Gideon, results in a significant decision. The Court now requires a person filing in forma pauperis to provide documentation of his or her impecunious circumstances.
Casper, Jonathan. American Criminal Justice: The Defendant’s Perspective. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1972. Cole, David. No Equal Justice: Race and Class in the American Criminal Justice System. New York: New Press, 1999. Feeley, Malcome. The Process Is the Punishment: Handling Cases in Lower Criminal Court. New York: Russell Sage, 1992. Lewis, Anthony. Gideon’s Trumpet. New York: Random House, 1989. Reiman, Jeffrey H. The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison: Ideology, Class, and Criminal Justice. Needham, Mass.: Allyn & Bacon, 1997.
Argersinger v. Hamlin
Betts v. Brady
Counsel, right to
Escobedo v. Illinois
Gideon v. Wainwright
Johnson v. Zerbst
Miranda v. Arizona
Powell v. Alabama