Gideon's silence.

The law, lawyers, and the court.
May 31 2006 5:35 PM

Gideon's Silence

Whatever happened to the right to counsel?

(Continued from Page 1)

This state of affairs has eroded our collective bedrock intuition that people are innocent until proven guilty. The New York Times tells us breathlessly that Judge Hunter actually released a person facing a serious charge and is even considering doing it again. As if it might be appropriate to keep people accused of "serious" crimes locked up without lawyers, just in case. But the right to decent counsel does not diminish when a person is accused of a really serious offense. If anything, the Constitution becomes more important the more serious the charge, and the more intrusive the government wants to be. After all, what were Hamdi and Padilla but cases in which the government alleged that the terrorism accusations were so "serious" that we should dispense with the usual constitutional protections? The Supreme Court, in its Hamdi opinion, rebuked the government for that stance, holding that even enemy combatants and terrorists cannot be detained indefinitely without due process and access to legal representation.

Ironically, poor U.S. citizens with no connections to al-Qaida have long languished in jails without counsel, or at least without counsel who can spend more than a few minutes showing them where to sign the guilty-plea papers.

Advertisement

So, back to Judge Hunter. Although he was galvanized by disaster, his response is actually quite modest: He is trying to enforce the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which reads: "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right … to have the assistance of counsel for his defense." The U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear for decades that if the government wants to prosecute and incarcerate an individual, it can only do so if that person has a competent lawyer. In its landmark case Gideon v. Wainwright the court invalidated Clarence Gideon's conviction because he wasn't represented. Threw the conviction out. Overturned it. Told the government: "You can't do that. No lawyer, no prosecution." Today, Judge Hunter is saying no less.

This is yet another one of those "Katrina moments" in which we realize that post-Katrina New Orleans is a high-definition example of how this nation routinely treats the poor and people of color. Right after the hurricane, the Brookings Institution issued a report on national poverty saying that, "Hurricane Katrina's assault on New Orleans' most vulnerable residents and neighborhoods has reinvigorated the dialogue on race and class in America." Well, today, Judge Hunter re-reinvigorates that dialogue, this time over the right to counsel for those same poor, vulnerable individuals. Just as important, he reminds us all that it shouldn't take a hurricane to uphold the Constitution.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Politics

Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

The Ludicrous Claims You’ll Hear at This Company’s “Egg Freezing Parties”

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 30 2014 9:33 PM Political Theater With a Purpose Darrell Issa’s public shaming of the head of the Secret Service was congressional grandstanding at its best.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM Going Private To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  Life
The Vault
Oct. 1 2014 10:49 AM James Meredith, Determined to Enroll at Ole Miss, Declares His Purpose in a 1961 Letter
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 10:54 AM “I Need a Pair of Pants That Won’t Bore Me to Death” Troy Patterson talks about looking sharp, flat-top fades, and being Slate’s Gentleman Scholar.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 10:44 AM Everyone’s Favorite Bob’s Burgers Character Gets a Remix You Can Dance to
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 10:27 AM 3,000 French Scientists Are Marching to Demand More Research Funding
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 1 2014 7:30 AM Say Hello to Our Quasi-Moon, 2014 OL339
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.