Page 50 - Ad Hoc Report June 2018
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Section 2: Legal Underpinnings and Passage of the Criminal Justice Act
2.1 Establishing the Right to Counsel: Sixth Amendment Jurisprudence
The Chief Justice tasked this Committee to study one of the most fundamental rights in America. This right—the right of the accused to competent counsel— “must be assured to every man accused of crime in Federal court, regardless of his means.”4 Enshrined in the Constitution under the Sixth Amendment, the right to “assistance of counsel” is a pillar on which the American justice system rests. As Judge Learned Hand stated succinctly, “If we are to keep our democracy, there must be one com- mandment: Thou shalt not ration justice.”5
However for nearly 200 years from the Sixth Amendment’s6 adoption until
the Supreme Court’s decision in Gideon v. Wainwright 7 justice was rationed, with
a greater portion allotted to those who had money. Prior to the 20th century, even though defendants possessed a right to retain counsel, those who could not afford an attorney were still required to defend themselves, but alone against a prosecu- tor and in front of a judge, both possessing specialized legal knowledge. A few cities
4 JohnF.Kennedy,AnnualMessagetotheCongressontheStateoftheUnion,(Jan.14,1963).
5 C.J.LearnedHand,75thAnniversaryAddresstotheLegalAidSocietyofN.Y.(Feb.16,1951)(quoting Sophocles).
6 SeeU.S.Const.amend.VI,“Inallcriminalprosecutions,theaccusedshallenjoytherighttoa speedy and public trial by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.” (emphasis added).
7 Gideonv.Wainwright,372U.S.335(1963).
No recommendation presented herein represents A D H O C C O M M I T T E E T O R E V I E W T H E C R I M I N A L J U S T I C E A C T the policy of the Judicial Conference of the United States unless approved by the Conference itself.

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