The majority of people who are arrested for crimes in the United States are considered and prosecuted as indigent. People who are being prosecuted are constitutionally granted the right to have a lawyer provided for them if they cannot afford to hire one. Indigent defense systems have emerged but there are questions about whether the standard Offices of Indigent Defense in the states are the best way to represent the accused.
After all, court-appointed attorneys work for the state. If you were charged with a crime would you want to be represented by the party who was accusing you of the crime? Would the decisions of that attorney be affected by who is paying his bills?
The Cato Institute has proposed a solution that may help alleviate the concern that a prisoner might feel that he or she is not represented by a lawyer but by a public defender. The solution would include a voucher system so the accused could pick who would represent him, not have someone appointed to that role. Some states are beginning to adopt this idea and recently Texas was in the news for its pilot program.
Cato reports that defense vouchers will improve the quality of legal representation for the poor. Better legal representation will, in turn, produce at least three benefits to the community:
- Improving defense services will reduce the likelihood of mistakes. That is, it will be less likely that innocent persons will be wrongfully convicted of crimes.
- Improving defense services will also minimize adverse consequences to the innocent persons who would have been acquitted under current systems of indigent defense. That is, a better defense means it is more likely that those innocents will be released from custody even sooner (pre-trial) and with less disruption to their lives and the lives of their family members.
- Improving defense services will bring more complete information to the sentencing phase of the criminal justice system – making it more likely that just punishment will be imposed on those who are guilty of committing criminal offenses.
Do you believe this would be a good policy for North Carolina to consider?