US Constitution

The Right to an Attorney Didn’t Come Easy

The Sixth Amendment of the US Constitution, a fundamental part of the Bill of Rights, states, “the accused shall enjoy the right … to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.” In these modern times, we take that line for granted. We expect that, in every case, an accused person has the right to a provided attorney.

But that wasn’t always the case. Truth be told, the right to an attorney didn’t come easy.

Gideon V. Wainright

In 1961 (5 years before Miranda Rights), a Mr. Gideon of Florida was charged with breaking and entering. He came to his court appointment alone and argued that the Sixth Amendment entitled him to an attorney.

The court argued that only applied to Federal charges. At that time in Florida, only someone accused of a capital crime (one where the sentence is death) had the right to an attorney.

Put another way, for nearly 200 years of American history, the vast majority of accused people did not have the right to an attorney.

The case went to the US Supreme Court. There, the Justices unanimously agreed that Mr. Gideon was correct. They cited the 14th amendment, which states, “No state shall make laws which abridge the privileges or immunities of the United States.”

Just like that, everyone accused of a crime in the United States had the right to an attorney. However, as the number of arrests increases (now topping 10,000,000 per year nationwide), that right to an attorney is becoming strained.

Today’s Problems

Because any citizen accused of a crime has the right to an attorney, most public defenders are completely overwhelmed. On average, public defenders are managing 3x-4x as many cases as they should be.

The less time an attorney spends on each case, the less likely their defense is to succeed. It’s a serious problem in the field of criminal defense and it calls for more public defenders.

Because public defenders are often overwhelmed, many people accused of a crime turn to hiring criminal defense attorneys. A skilled criminal defense attorney can carefully weigh the evidence in each case and give their clients the defense they deserve.

If you’re facing criminal charges, you may wish to consult an attorney. If you’d like to discuss your case with an experienced Knox County criminal attorney from Andrew Farmer Law to evaluate your case, please send us an email or call (865) 205-2637.