THE U.S. HAS FAILED TO HONOR ITS PROMISE OF A RIGHT TO COUNSEL AND THE IMPLICATIONS ARE STAGGERING

The Dallas Morning News – June 29, 2018

TV shows and Hollywood movies repeat a familiar refrain: You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford one, one will be provided to you at no cost. This is the core promise of the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution. Yet across the U.S., thousands of uncharged criminal defendants languish behind bars for days, weeks and even months without an attorney appointed to represent them.

June marks the 10th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Rothgery vs. Gillespie County decision. Walter Rothgery was arrested after police stopped him for a traffic violation and found a gun in his car. Police claimed that Rothgery had a prior felony conviction and charged him as a felon-in-possession of a firearm. Rothgery had no money for a lawyer and made several oral and written requests for an attorney. But his requests were unheeded. It wasn’t until six months after his arrest that a court appointed an attorney to represent Rothgery.

Rothgery sought a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court on this most basic American right: the right to an attorney. Shockingly, the Supreme Court did not hold that six months was too long for a person to wait for a lawyer’s assistance. Instead, the Supreme Court ruled there is no right to counsel’s assistance at the first appearance in court. The court requires only that an attorney be appointed within a “reasonable” time after the initial appearance in court. How long is a reasonable time? Ten years later, no one knows. [READ MORE]