Washington, D.C. – The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law applauds Sen. Kamala Harris’ introduction of the Ensuring Quality Access of Legal Defense of 2019 Act (the “EQUAL Defense Act”), a bill designed to promote the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of the right to a fair trial and the right to an attorney for every individual charged with a crime.
“Adversarial proceedings where the Government’s evidence and arguments are challenged by competent counsel are central to a fair and impartial justice system,” said Kristen Clarke, President and Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights.
A recent study reported in the New York Times showed that in Colorado, Missouri and Rhode Island, public defenders have workloads two to three times higher than the recommended limits for ensuring adequate representation of counsel. The state of Wisconsin is being sued by individuals who were detained in jail for up to 75 days before ever being appointed counsel. The Lawyers’ Committee and the Southern Poverty Law Center are suing the Governor of Louisiana and the state’s Public Defender Board for maintaining an indigent defense system that effectively denies the right to counsel to tens of thousands of Louisianans.
“The warning signs of crisis are clear, yet the provision of counsel for indigent defendants has been an afterthought in the fight to secure criminal justice reform,” Clarke argues. “This bill helps bring us closer to the day when the promise of Gideon vs. Wainwright is fully realized and all defendants receive the effective assistance of counsel who have the capacity and resources necessary to zealously represent their clients’ interests during each critical phase of trial,” said Clarke.
For full bill text, click here.
About the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. Now in its 56th year, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is continuing its quest to “Move America Toward Justice.” The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice for all, particularly in the areas of criminal justice, fair housing and community development, economic justice, educational opportunities, and voting rights.
Reynolds Graves, Lawyers’ Committee, [email protected], 202-662-8375