50 years of the right to a lawyer: Fifty years ago today the US Supreme Court decided Gideon v. Wainwright, ruling that the Sixth Amendment’s declaration that a defendant has the right to “Assistance of Counsel” even applies to poor people.
It’s still far from perfect. Demand far exceeds supply, and inadequate funding leads to understaffed Public Defender’s offices and crushing caseloads. It doesn’t tend to be a hot issue for politicians, because the defense of those accused of crimes is not typically a cause that people rally around. What politician is going to run on a platform of helping the accused defend themselves in court?
What you should keep in mind is that many of the amendments in the Bill of Rights are not protected by the government, Congress, or the cops. They are protected by defense attorneys. Arrested for protesting? Defense attorneys protect your First Amendment rights. Harassed for carrying a weapon? Call on a defense attorney to assert your rights under the Second Amendment. Cops barge into your house without a warrant, or pull you over for no reason? Not in this country. Defense attorneys won’t let them use anything they find out about you based on their violation of your Fourth Amendment rights. The Fifth, Sixth and Eighth are likewise the domain of the defense attorney, and books could be (and have been) written about the defense attorney’s role in upholding them. By insisting on those rights for people accused of crimes, defense attorneys preserve them for everyone else.
We don’t just defend the guilty. We defend you.