September 17, 2014
The right to an attorney is guaranteed under the United States Constitution. In 1963, the United States Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Gideon v. Wainwright that everyone accused of a crime is entitled to a competent lawyer even if he or she cannot afford one. But more than 50 years later, poor and often innocent New Yorkers are forced through the criminal justice system and sent to jail undefended and alone. State of Injustice: How New York State Turns its Back on the Right to Counsel for the Poor focuses on five counties: Onondaga (Syracuse), Suffolk, Ontario, Schuyler and Washington. In each of these counties, people too poor to afford private attorneys too often appear before judges without a lawyer by their side, or are forced to navigate the criminal justice system with a revolving cast of overworked attorneys unfamiliar with their cases. Public defense attorneys who strive to protect the rights of their clients are too often thwarted by caseloads up to five times the recommended maximums and a lack of resources for investigations, experts and even workplace basics like computers. New York has turned its back on decades of studies and official reports warning that indigent defendants are consistently denied their right to counsel. As a result, justice in New York often is available only for those who can afford it.