In the Justice System, the right to counsel in a criminal case is a cornerstone of justice. In the 1963 landmark decision of Gideon v. Wainwright, the Supreme Court declared that criminal defendants facing felony charges have the right to an attorney even if they cannot afford to pay for one
However, what that actually means is open for debate. In the words of a current U.S. Supreme Court Justice, it seems as simple as the difference between a luxury vehicle and an adequate car capable of getting you safely from point A to point B. Recently at a U.S. Department of Justice event marking the 50th anniversary of Gideon, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan stated that indigent defendants should be provided with at least a “Ford Taurus” defense, but not necessarily a “Cadillac” defense. Justice Kagan explained that “we don’t have the resources to make [a Cadillac defense] happen,” and even if we did have the resources, “I’m not sure . . . that that’s exactly what we should want.”
Since the Gideon decision, courts have expanded the right to counsel to juvenile proceedings as well as certain misdemeanor offenses. But many states are struggling to provide indigent criminal defendants with competent legal representation mainly because of insufficient state funding.
In the Justice System in Michigan, the stark reality is that publicly underfunded defense services cannot keep up with the demand. Our struggling economy has forced people that would have used private counsel in better times to now use court appointed counsel.
As a result, the contrast in Michigan is not between a Cadillac and a Taurus, it is between a $7,500.00 used vehicle and a $500.00 beater with a wooden bumper, a shattered windshield, and trim held together by duct tape.
In Michigan, compensation for indigent criminal defense lawyers is county-based. This means that each county determines the amount of funding that will be allocated to indigent defense services. However, due to county budget restrictions, most criminal defense lawyers appointed to represent indigent defendants receive inadequate compensation for their services and generally lack the resources necessary to provide indigent criminal defendants with competent legal representation. Unfortunately, this means that attorneys must either take on more cases than they can reasonably handle well, or many well-qualified attorneys simply do not take indigent cases.
For these reasons, if you or a loved one is currently facing juvenile, misdemeanor, or felony charges in Michigan, it is important that you contact an experienced Michigan criminal defense attorney today, regardless of whether you are in Detroit, Flint, Troy, Kalamazoo, Lansing, Grand Rapids, Monroe, Ann Arbor, or any other Michigan county.