Monday, October 29, 2007

Of Course There Are Poor People

The death penalty continues to be one of the most controversial issues in the United States. Is it fair to put individuals to death? What if they are innocent? Perhaps their court-appointed lawyer is not qualified, and therefore their defendant is found guilty. This last concern is extremely hard to resolve, and may not be fixed in our society because there will always be people with money and people without it.
In Erica Sheppard’s case the court-appointed lawyers were definitely not qualified, and she was sentenced to death although she was innocent. Sheppard knew her lawyers were not competent and would not allow her to testify on her on behalf, never telling her she had a constitutional right to do so. These problems can be fixed by simply making sure that the lawyers appointed by the court are qualified and able to handle capital cases.
Also, we must provide equal resources to all who are tried in capital cases. If we provide equal resources for them, then there will be no advantage of the rich over the poor. It goes along with the founding of our country and the ideals that we base our justice system on—“liberty and justice for all.”
Statistics show that 90% of those defendants who are appointed lawyers by the courts are virtually guaranteed a death sentence. This is startling and should be a warning to us that our justice system is truly flawed and needs to be worked on. The stories about these lawyers are appalling: Calvin Burdine’s lawyer slept through important portions of his trial, and Vinson Washington’s suggested to the defense psychiatrist that he was evil. Such stories should not be heard of and should not exist. Perhaps the only way to fix it now is to abolish the death penalty all together.


Allison said...

I feel that there is no getting around the fact that there are going to be some better lawyers than others. According to this belief, the better lawyers will charge a larger fee for their services. Because of this, state appointed lawyers will not be of the highest qualifications. The states cannot afford to pay for the higher lawyer fees, and therefore they cannot appoint the victims to the more qualified lawyers.
Unfortunately, I think the issue lies elsewhere since there is little to be done here. The process of gathering evidence should have stricter guidelines and requirements so that all evidence is presented, and in a fair manner. The courts should be more orderly and timely, since providing all lawyers of equal ability is nearly impossible.

katiegane said...

It is definitely unfair that all citizens do not have the same access to high-quality lawyers. I definitely agree that all people on trial should be given equal resources, but how do you recommend achieving this proposal? What would be used to fund your suggestion and how do you know when to stop? How do you determine who is a suitable lawyer and who is lacking. Those cases that you speak of are appalling! I cannot imagine a lawyer falling asleep during the trial. These examples demonstrate the desperate needs to fix the flaws in the representation of the United State’s court system. I agree that if everyone is not given equal resources in a matter that is as great as life and death, then the system of capital punishment should be abolished all together.

Arty said...

It is quite appalling that defendants whose lives rest in the hands of the court decision should not (always) get great lawyers to represent them. I have been under the impression that public defendants were oftentimes lawyers from private practices taking part in community service, and I thought that some service was mandated each year for lawyers. How frequently are unpaid lawyers overqualified? From the point of view of the state, it would seem that under qualified prosecutors from the state would be equally as unqualified as the defense attorneys, and the odds wouldn't be in any group's favor.

Cody Green said...

I agree with Allison. There will always be inconsistencies in how cases are argued and the quality of the attorneys assigned to defendants. However, I do agree that it is a significant problem which should be addressed. How should we go about it? How can we ensure that all lawyers are nearly equal, at least in death penalty cases?

I think that the best method would be imposing a minimum experience requirement for all attorneys handling capital crimes. At least this way we can be certain that although individual lawyers may not be equal, they all have similar experience and will therefore be close in overall quality.

annadele said...

I agree with Cody and Allison but I think that the problem is less with guidelines for evidence and such as it is with having a jury that is so incredibly influenced by a skill or lack of skill of an attorney. If juries were less easily persuaded by manipulative attorneys then how much better the prosecutor is compared to defense attorney wouldn't matter as much.
Requiring that a lawyer have certain qualifications - such as having tried a capital case before - isn't really possible unless the requirement is that they've assisted in a capital case before. The only problem there is that states would then have to pay an assisting attorney AND a real attorney for certain cases. Unless assisting in a case were an option during law school. Maybe that's the best option?

VEnglish1 said...

Each lawyer is different in his or her own way. I feel that just because they are a court appointed lawyer, does not mean that they are unqualified or will not perform the job just as well as a private lawyer. Although I agree that some court appointed lawyers are ineffective in the case, does this poor expertise come from their limited skill in the field or simply due to lack of experience? It would also be interesting to compare the educational background of a court appointed lawyer vs a personal lawyer. Finally are defendants allowed to appeal for a different lawyer if they choose?