The Next Frontier in the Criminal Justice Conversation

August 08, 2016

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: When Is It Provided?

The 6th Amendment to the U.S Constitution guarantees a defendant’s right to be represented by legal counsel at no expense to the defendant, but is not all-encompassing.

The 6th Amendment Covers:

It Does Not Cover:

80% of civil legal needs for for poor go unmet.

"In reality, the right to counsel is a right to the unequal assistance of counsel in the United States." - Professor Peter Joy, Washington University in St. Louis School of Law

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A Human Right to Counsel: U.S. Versus the World

According to research by Washington University in St. Louis School of Law Professor Peter Joy and the World Justice Project Rule of Law Index, the United States lags behind most of its peers in providing legal services to the poor.

As measured by the Rule of Law Index, the U.S. ranks:

In all three categories, the U.S. is ranked behind:

The U.S. Versus the U.K.

The U.K. spends 1000X more than the U.S per capita on public defense.

The U.S. spend 3X less on public defense than on prosecution.

The U.K spend 4X more on public defense than on prosecution.

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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."

While legal counsel is a right guaranteed in the U.S Constitution, the realities of tightening state budgets mean that public defenders are so overwhelmed as to be unable to truly fight for their clients.

Overworked

73% of county public defender officers, like those studied in Miami, Florida, exceed caseload guidelines set by the National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals.

As a result, public defenders, like those studies in Missouri, spend significantly less time than advised to defend their clients.

Murder

Serious felonies:

Sex felonies:

Less serious felonies:

Misdemeanors:

Underfunded

$146.5 billion is spent annually on criminal justice in the United States.

>50% goes to prosecutors. 2-3% foes to the defense of the poor.

For every $1 spent on public defense, $14 is spent on corrections.

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