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Reclaiming Our Rightful Place: Reviving the Hero Image of the Public Defender

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Keynote Address: “There can be no equal justice where the kind of trial a man gets depends on the amount of money he has.” Justice Hugo Black wrote this in Griffin v. Illinois, seven years before he authored his groundbreaking opinion in Gideon v. Wainwright, establishing a Sixth Amendment right to counsel in state court prosecutions. In Gideon, the Court recognized that a lawyer is essential to ensuring a fair trial. While the Gideon Court did not lay out a standard for the type of lawyer to which a poor person is entitled, read in conjunction with the Court’s pronouncement in Griffin, the answer is obvious. He is entitled to a lawyer with the time, resources, experience, training, and commitment for which a person with means would pay. For if a poor defendant requires a comparable trial to his wealthier counterpart to ensure equal justice, and the quality of the lawyer dictates the quality of the trial, equal justice can only be guaranteed where the poor person has access to the same level of representation as the person who can afford to hire counsel. . . .”


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