Inadequate Defense Counsel
Competent defense lawyers can help prevent the conviction of innocent defendants by investigating, filing proper motions, and fighting for their clients. Unfortunately, although effective representation at trial is guaranteed by our Constitution, the representation provided to poor criminal defendants doesn’t always live up to that promise. In too many cases, defense lawyers have failed to investigate the crime; have failed to call witnesses who could prove a defendant’s innocence; have failed to challenge eyewitness identification procedures, false confessions, or bad science; and have simply failed to prepare for trial.
For example, in the case of Marvin Anderson, a MAIP client exonerated by DNA testing, his attorney failed to present evidence that another man – John Otis Lincoln – matched the description of the rapist and was rumored in the community to be the rapist. Mr. Anderson requested that the attorney call Mr. Lincoln at trial, but the lawyer did not call him. Unbeknownst to Mr. Anderson, his defense lawyer had represented Mr. Lincoln in another matter and thus had a duty of loyalty to him as well. The same DNA testing that exonerated Mr. Anderson also proved that Mr. Lincoln had committed the crime.
In some cases like Mr. Anderson’s, bad lawyering is simply due to negligence or incompetence. In all too many cases, however, this incompetence is due to incredibly high caseloads and lack of resources, such as training, investigators, and funding for experts. The shrinking funding and access to resources for public defenders and court-appointed attorneys is only making the problem worse.
With these issues in mind, we believe that legislatures in all states should fund indigent defense services in cases requiring appointment of counsel at a level that ensures that all indigent defendants receive effective and meaningful representation. We also believe that all defense counsel should be subject to qualification standards that address workload limits, training requirements, professional independence, and other areas to ensure effective and meaningful representation. Finally, we believe that public defenders should be funded to the same extent as prosecutor’s offices so that they have all-important access to experts and investigators. For more information about the problems of inadequate defense counsel, please visit: