Mercury Rising 鳯女

Politics, life, and other things that matter

The Optional Sixth Amendment

Posted by Charles II on July 12, 2009

Tony Pugh, McClatchy (via t/o)

After years of funding shortfalls, legal aid societies across the country are being overwhelmed by growing numbers of poor and unemployed Americans who face eviction, foreclosure, bankruptcy and other legal problems tied to the recession….

The nonprofit Legal Services Corp….. says that the number of people who qualify for assistance has jumped by about 11 million since 2007….. Roughly 51 million people are now eligible for assistance – individuals and families who earn less than 125 percent of the federal poverty level, now set at $27,564 a year for a family of four….That means that legal-aid programs will turn away roughly 1 million valid cases this year, advocates say, about half the requests for assistance they’ll receive….Middle-class people also have trouble affording legal help, but with fewer economic resources, the poor are more likely to find their money problems leading to court.

Legal aid offices typically handle cases involving divorces, child custody and a host of consumer issues that can include landlord-tenant disputes, foreclosures, evictions, applications for government benefits and battles with predatory lenders. They often represent battered women who need protection, women who are trying to obtain child support or families trying to secure insurance payments….

    After providing $390 million for programs funded by the Legal Services Corp. this year – an 11 percent increase over 2008 – Congress is poised to up the ante again. The House of Representatives has requested $440 million for fiscal year 2010, President Barack Obama asked for $435 million and the Senate has called for $400 million.

    House and Senate conferees will settle on a final amount, but it’s unlikely to approach the previous inflation-adjusted peaks of $750 million in 1981 and $554 million in 1995, according to a new report by the Center for American Progress, a liberal research center. The report found that the Legal Services Corp.’s inflation-adjusted funding this fiscal year is the lowest in the program’s 35-year history, an estimated $6.85 per person.

Now, the Sixth Amendment, taken literally, applies only to federal criminal trials. But if representation is understood as a fundamental human right, surely we do not want people who are being unjustly evicted or women seeking protection from abusive husbands or people being cheated by insurance companies who renege on payments to be denied representation. Those can easily turn into issues of the gravity of loss of life and liberty.

3 Responses to “The Optional Sixth Amendment”

  1. .
    If Obama really were a progressive, he would be pouring stimulus money into citizens’ legal defense, and limiting the use of the Courts as a collection agency. Instead, the Dem’s keep playing for the other team. Then there’s the crime rate, which always goes up in hard times: Good news for right-wingers. Our fastest growing group of hyphenates is Incarcerated-Americans. Unfortunately, there are very few bankers & brokers among them. And damned few lawyers, as defenders or defendants.

    There will never be any “change” until we get corporate money out of our polity. I don’t see how anyone can even pretend that individuals are equal to corporations, when corporations own all the lawyers and the lawmakers. Granted, the “framers” were largely a bunch of patroons, or poltroons, but even they thought that certain rights existed in fact and not just in theory. Anyone who has ever been in Court knows that you are helpless as a naked baby on a battlefield if you go before a judge without a lawyer. That should be as much our right as medical care.

    The “original intent” was clear, and it has been reaffirmed: We have a right to due process, and that is impossible without a lawyer, civil or criminal, municipal, County, State or Federal, rich or poor, black or white. The system was created by lawyers and for lawyers, and no process should be carried out without competent lawyers on all sides. It cannot be fairly done otherwise.

    ‘ V.
    No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
    XIV.
    1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

    .

    • Charles II said

      Cosanostradamus says, “The “original intent” was clear, and it has been reaffirmed: We have a right to due process, and that is impossible without a lawyer, civil or criminal, municipal, County, State or Federal, rich or poor, black or white. The system was created by lawyers and for lawyers, and no process should be carried out without competent lawyers on all sides. It cannot be fairly done otherwise.”

      Well said. Very well said.

      • .
        Yeah. You might as well say, “Well, theoretically, you have a right to medical care, so here’s a scalpel.” Similar outcome for defendants without competent counsel in any court: I’ve seen the un- and under-represented get royally screwed too many times: Even as real miscreants waltz in and out, ahead of the peons, with lawyers like courtiers in a medieval court. We really ought to drop that term, “court.” Bad subtext.

        The very countenance of the judge changes based on whether you have a good lawyer or not. Defendants are all suspects, even unrepresented civil plaintiffs are just an annoyance to many a judge, as opposed to litigants with a lawyer, who is always a brother in the same fraternity as the judge. There are exceptions on the bench, but they’re increasingly rare thanks to years of Republican and DINO appointments, and the general corporatist drift in the legal profession. Not too many Kuby’s or Kunstler’s around any more. Certainly not in our Muni & County courts out there in the boonies.
        .

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