NAACP Supports the Right to Effective Assistance of Counsel
WHEREAS, in the 1963 landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, Gideon v. Wainwright, the court unanimously held that states are required under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution to provide counsel in all criminal cases to represent defendants who are unable to afford to pay their own attorneys; and
WHEREAS, as a result of the Gideon case, an indigent individual facing criminal prosecution in a State court is entitled to the effective assistance of counsel at the State's expense, as guaranteed by the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution; and
WHEREAS, after more than 50 years, our public defender system is dramatically understaffed and underfunded, with the result that the poor, the indigent, and Americans of color are consistently deprived of adequate representation and poorly served, despite the best efforts of public defenders; and
WHEREAS, the actual and constructive denial of the right to counsel is a systemic problem across the United States; and
WHEREAS, 75% of county-funded public defenders have caseloads exceeding recommended standards. Attorneys frequently have caseloads more than three or four times the recommended levels; and
WHEREAS, the result, not surprisingly, is that nearly 95% of indigent defendants plead guilty – often after barely speaking with their attorney; and
WHEREAS, due to a myriad of circumstances, racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionately accused of crimes, and are disproportionately in need of a public defender; and
WHEREAS, currently, the only time most defendants can effectively assert inadequate representation is after they have already been convicted or have pled guilty; and
WHEREAS, one constructive and effective solution to this problem is to create a federal cause of action that allows a class of indigent defendants to sue in federal court for systemic violations of the Sixth Amendment on a pre-conviction basis to seek declaratory, injunctive or other equitable relief.
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the NAACP strongly supports the right of all people, regardless of their race, gender, ethnicity, income or station in life, to receive effective assistance of counsel at all stages of the adversarial process when accused of a crime; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the NAACP calls for adequate funding and resources to be provided to all public defender offices so that they may provide satisfactory legal advice; and
BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, that NAACP members, units, state conferences, and national office shall support the efforts to enact H.R. 5124 "Equal Justice Under the Law Act of 2016" to ensure effective assistance of counsel for all who are accused of criminal behavior, which includes the creation of a federal cause of action that allows a class of indigent defendants to sue in federal court for systemic violations of the Sixth Amendment on a pre-conviction basis to seek declaratory, injunctive or other equitable relief.