Overcoming Defiance of the Constitution: The Need for a Federal Role in Protecting the Right to Counsel in Georgia

29th September, 2010
American Constitution Society for Law and Policy
Stephen B. Bright and Lauren Sudeall Lucas


The American Constitution Society (ACS) has posted on its website “Overcoming Defiance of the Constitution: The Need for a Federal Role in Protecting the Right to Counsel in Georgia” by Stephen B. Bright, President and Senior Counsel, and Lauren Sudeall Lucas, Staff Attorney, at the Center. The paper is part of a series of Issue Briefs that ACS is publishing focused on ideas for a role that the federal government can play in helping improve indigent defense systems around the country. The series builds on the interest in pursuing reform expressed by Attorney General Eric Holder, Congress, and other federal policymakers to address the crisis in indigent defense that has existed since the Supreme Court’s 1963 decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, the landmark case establishing the right to counsel for poor people accused of crimes.

In their issue brief, Bright and Lucas discuss the problems that have existed in Georgia’s indigent defense system since Gideon was decided. They contend that “[a]ll three branches of Georgia’s government have failed in their constitutional responsibility to ensure that poor people accused of crimes are effectively represented by competent lawyers.” They also argue that “[t]he federal government, which has made immense contributions to the prosecution of criminal cases in Georgia through grants to law enforcement, prosecutors, and courts, shares responsibility for the integrity of Georgia’s criminal justice system and the enforcement of the constitutional right to counsel.” They also describe Georgia’s public defender system and its failings, as well as the impact it is having on individual defendants. They then explore how “the federal government can play a role in remedying Georgia’s failure to enforce the right to counsel.” They conclude that “[u]nless the federal government enforces the right to counsel through measures requiring states like Georgia to fundamentally reconceive the way in which they provide indigent defense services, it is unlikely that those states will ever meet their constitutional responsibilities. The cost will be enormous in terms of wrongful convictions, uninformed sentencing, and a criminal justice system that lacks both credibility and legitimacy.”

To read the full brief CLICK HERE.