Each year the criminal codes of both the federal and state government grows. The result is that increasing number of Americans face the devastating impact of a criminal prosecution. The burden of defending against a criminal charge falls most harshly on the middle class. Unable to qualify for a public defender, and lacking the means to hire a dream team, many Americans face trial without resources for experts, investigators the counsel necessary to meet the state's allegations head on.
The state, however, does not suffer a lack of resources to prosecute. And hence the great asymmetry in the criminal justice system: The state finances an expanding and expansive law enforcement machine with virtually unlimited resources. A young man accused, let's say, of possession of narcotics, might face not just the testimony of the arresting officer, but that of a toxicologist, and, perhaps, an expert on the characteristics of the narcotics trade.
Or consider the case of man accused of molesting a child a decade or more ago. The state will confront the man not just with the testimony of the alleged victim, but with experts on forensic interviewing, delayed disclosure of traumatic memories, incremental disclosure of crimes, and such other experts as it will. Many defendants meet these experts armed solely with the wits of their lawyer.
Appointed counsel, experts and investigators are available for those falling below the poverty line, and the wealthy can afford the counsel of their choice. Most Americans, however, are alone, and must negotiate a fee with the private bar. In many cases, the fee generated may be enough to cover legal fees but not experts. In other words, the middle class suffers a disadvantage at trial.
Why aren't all Americans entitled as a matter of right to the services of appointed criminal counsel, together with access to the services of experts and investigators equal in caliber and expense to those serving the prosecution? Isn't it the case that the public defender, able as it is to provide representation to the poor, is really but a first step in fulfilling the dream of equal justice for all?
This blog is devoted to building support for a universal public defender system for all Americans. Sure, it's a bold dream. But the fight for access to justice for all has already been won for the indigent; let's make the dream come true for all.