The Next Frontier in the Criminal Justice Conversation

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Over the past several years, high-profile news coverage from places like Ferguson and Baltimore have jump-started a national conversation about the state of the U.S. criminal justice system. The events that took place in these cities, and the fervent public response to them, have served to magnify deep flaws in the criminal justice system.In fact, research from Washington University in St. Louis School of Law Professor Peter Joy suggests that it “is stacked against you if you are a person of color or are poor, and is doubly unjust if you are both a person of color and poor.”

As Joy explains in “Unequal Assistance of Counsel,” a potential counterweight to an unjust system is a lawyer by one’s side. In fact, the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees a defendant’s right to be represented by legal counsel at no expense to the defendant. However, according to Joy, a close look reveals that “if one does not have the financial means to hire effective counsel, or is poor and not lucky enough to have a well-funded, effective public defender or appointed counsel, the defendant’s right to counsel is unequal.”

To further this conversation, @WashULaw’s Master of Legal Studies program explores this crucial criminal justice issue through a series of infographics.

I. Understanding the Right to Counsel

II. A Human Right to Counsel

II. Public Defenders: Overworked and Underfunded

Understanding the Right to Counsel

The 6th Amendment guarantees a defendant's right to counsel under certain conditions. However, according to Professor Joy, its protections are fairly limited in scope. As a result, the poor do not have access to counsel for serious matters like home foreclosure proceedings and child custody cases.

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A Human Right to Counsel

Many consider the right to counsel, and in turn, the right to a fair trial, a human right. In this respect, the United States lags behind many of its peers.

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Public Defenders: Overworked and Underfunded

The state of public defense (legal services provided under the 6th Amendment) is in disarray. As Professor Joy explains, "the absense of adequate funding for public defense has led to excessive caseloads and poor lawyering...The fall out from inadequate funding for public defense is first and foremost a betrayal of the promise of equal right under the law when one faces criminal charges."

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Citation: Washington University School of Law's Online Master of Legal Studies Program