The right to counsel in America today
The danger of government wrongly taking a person’s liberty led the United States Supreme Court in 1963 to unanimously declare it an “obvious truth” that an indigent person cannot receive a fair trial against the “machinery” of law enforcement unless a lawyer is provided to him at no cost. “The right of one charged with crime to counsel may not be deemed fundamental and essential to fair trials in some countries,” the Court announced in Gideon v. Wainwright, “but it is in ours.” Since Gideon, all states have the responsibility to provide an attorney to every person of limited means who faces the possible loss of their liberty at the hands of the criminal justice system. Yet over fifty years later, all across America our courts are failing to uphold this constitutional right to counsel.
Our mission & services
The Sixth Amendment Center seeks to ensure that no person faces potential time in jail without first having the aid of a lawyer with the time, ability, and resources to present an effective defense, as required under the United States Constitution. We do so by measuring public defense systems against Sixth Amendment case law and established standards of justice. When shortcomings are identified, we help states and counties make their courts fair again in ways that promote public safety and fiscal responsibility.
Our projects & impact
The members of our staff are national experts on the right to counsel, not only in helping states and counties understand the minimum requirements of the Constitution, but also in guiding policymakers in crafting sustainable solutions that promote public safety and fiscal responsibility. At the Sixth Amendment Center, we believe in using the most effective means – most efficient, cost-effective, time-effective means that will yield a workable solution – to address the particular issue faced by the particular jurisdiction that seeks our help. We are flexible, tailoring our assistance and support to meet each jurisdiction’s individualized needs, while the assistance we provide is at all times rooted in Sixth Amendment case law and the minimum national standards for right to counsel systems.
Our publications – national issues
At the 6AC, we believe that there is no one-size-fits-all model that all jurisdictions must use to deliver the effective right to counsel required by the Sixth Amendment. That is, each jurisdiction must take into account its unique court structures and cultures, geographic expanse and population centers, and criminal procedures, laws, and rules, to create a system that works best for the citizenry of each state. In designing its indigent defense system, what every state must do – the one thing that is not optional – is to comply with the requirements of current Sixth Amendment case law and prevailing national standards. At the same time, policymakers and criminal justice stakeholders should not have to reinvent the wheel to solve every issue, instead being able to learn from what has succeeded and what has failed elsewhere.
Our publications – state evaluations
The Sixth Amendment Center is often asked to provide an independent, objective evaluation of how a jurisdiction fulfills or fails to fulfill its Sixth Amendment obligation to provide counsel to those facing loss of liberty who cannot afford to hire their own attorney. Our reports reflect 6AC’s findings and recommendations based in Sixth Amendment case law and national standards for right to counsel systems.
Our speaking engagements
We are always glad to talk about the ways in which right to counsel services are being provided and how we can live up to our constitutional promise. If you’d like to have us speak to your organization, please contact our staff.