A similar case with same result recently handled just a couple of weeks ago by the Florida Supreme Court. But this is only a partial solution. Those 2 cases are only a partial solution to problem that confronts us. Reducing case laws will certainly allowed defenders to spend more on other cases but we still will not have enough lawyers to provide every defendant with effective representation. We need more funding for criminal offends and we need more lawyers to handle cases for indigent defendants. Today a public defendant may only have enough time to spend 5 to 10 minutes interviewing a client before allowing the defendant to plead guilty, even though a paid lawyer, retained lawyer, might spend hours on the case before the entry of a plea.
We need more defendants so that they will be able to spend the amount of time necessary, To ensure that a plea of guilty will not be made unless it’s the best alternative for the, for the client. There are more steps at the Courts legislators could take if we are really serious about the need for fairness and criminal justice system.
A friend said we could change the law with respect to the right to counsel and misdemeanor cases. Today an indigent charged with the misdemeanors tiles the appoint with council only if that defendant is actually incarcerated following conviction. Under Argisis versus Hamlin… if the prosecutor advises the judge and they all said if he does not want to go for jail time, the indigent defendant will not get counsel. The defender probably will be relieved that he isn’t going to jail and may plead guilty without a lawyer just to get the case over with.
But suppose he’s not a citizen, if so he may be later deported back because, from the United States because of that conviction or defendant convicted of misdemeanor will later have difficulty being accepted into the military if he tries to enlist, because of the conviction. Or he may be turned down for graduates school or medical school or law school because of that conviction. If the indigent is charged with misdemeanor the principles of Gideon versus Wainwright should apply he should have counsel appointed for him, period.
Another suggested change is to make counsel available to indigent prison inmates in post-conviction habeas corpus and other types of post-conviction cases including appeals from denials of post-conviction petitions. The law concerning post-conviction remedy is extremely complex. An untrained person cannot be expected to be able to prepare a post-conviction motion or petition and represent himself in such a proceeding. Earlier this year I’ve received a letter from an inmate in New York who had a Florida sentence to serve on when he completed the New York sentence, He said he had contacted 245 lawyers and law schools for help and no one would provide assistance.
Let me close my remarks by returning to the Gideon case. In September 2000 Fred Turner drove Ann and me to the site of the Bay Harbor poolroom. The paper mill was still there but the pool room and the buildings in the small community of Bay Harbor all had been demolished. All that was left was the streets and the foundations of those buildings. Gideon is dead, Abe Fortas is dead and no member of the Supreme Court who was involved in the case is still alive. Looking back over these 60 or 50 plus years, more than 50 years I realized that my interest in law teaching and career was due largely to my involvement in that case. That got me interested to provide legal help to indigents.
I started legal programs for indigent defendants and for prison inmates since several states had various law schools in Georgia, Massachusetts, and Ohio and in Florida.
Over a period of 50 years I have handled many pro bono cases, for criminal defendants and for prison inmates. And just about every one of these has been incredibly interesting. Clearly the most interesting and most memorable experience in my carrier and in my life however was being a lawyer for the state of Florida in Gideon versus Wainwright.