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Ineffective Representation Can Have Costly Consequences

McCarter | East PLLC Aug. 25, 2022

If you’re accused of a crime in the United States, Scales Next To Man Signing Paperthe Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees you the right to a speedy and public trial by a jury of your peers. And on top of that, it promises to supply legal counsel to defend you if you cannot afford an attorney.  

The question, however, is how effective are public defendants – which is what free public counsel is known as – before and during the trial? In most situations, public defenders are overwhelmed by their caseload and have little time to spend with you, the accused, in developing a strategy and challenging steps taken by the prosecution.  

If you are under investigation or have been charged for a crime in or around Murfreesboro, Tennessee, contact the criminal defense attorneys at McCarter | East PLLC. Our attorneys are experienced and ready to take on any state or federal charge against you, exercise your rights, and achieve the best possible result.  

Our office is located conveniently next to the Rutherford County Courthouse. We also proudly serve clients in Berry Hill and Murfreesboro, Tennessee.   

Your Rights Under the Law 

Though the Sixth Amendment guaranteed “the Assistance of Counsel” for your defense, states resisted doing so, saying the Bill of Rights applied only on the federal level. However, in the case of Gideon v. Wainwright in 1963, the Supreme Court ruled against Florida and its practice of limiting public counsel only to capital (murder) cases. 

The court invoked the Fourteenth Amendment, which extended all Constitutional guarantees to the states, and ruled that the states must provide public counsel for all indigent defendants. Since then, all states have instituted a system of public defenders, who are available to those who need and want their services. (Public defenders are not always free either. Some states make defendants pay according to their ability.) 

The Public Defender System

and Ineffective Representation 

How good are public defenders? The answer is that no matter how well educated or well intended they are, sometimes circumstances just make their jobs that much more difficult. This is especially true given the large number of defendants assigned to them. Their caseload affords them little time to go the extra mile to help a client, and their budgets generally preclude them from spending any money on expert testimony or outside investigators.  

As a result, it's too often the case that public defenders will wait until the trial opens and then see what plea bargain the prosecution is willing to offer. They then sign off on that, whether it’s the best deal the defendant can get or not.   

This highlights how public defenders and their time constraints often work against the defendant beginning with pre-trial motions, hearings, and conferences. Public defenders often have to choose whom to represent and when based on conflicting court proceedings among their various clients.  

In addition, many public defenders cut their teeth, so to speak, on driving under the influence (DUI) cases, which gives them little in the way of courtroom experience when it comes to more serious charges like assault, rape, or domestic violence. 

Study on Ineffective Representation 

Westlaw, a prestigious legal research and reference firm, conducted a study of defendants facing trial based on DNA evidence. When their trials were over, out of 255 cases, 54 appealed their convictions based on what they deemed to be ineffective representation by their public defenders. All but seven had their appeals denied. The seven, who either had their convictions reversed or were ordered to have new trials, claimed their public defender:  

  • Failed to present defense witnesses. 

  • Failed to object to the prosecutors’ arguments or statements. 

  • Failed to object to evidence or suppress evidence.  

  • Failed to interview/cross-examine witnesses.  

Exactly half of the appellants – 27 – cited multiple failures. 

More Evidence from The Innocence Project 

The Innocence Project, a national nonprofit organization that seeks justice for those who are wrongfully convicted, has also studied many cases and found lapses, mistakes, and even abuses by public defenders. The organization also cites the lack of adequate public funding to ensure that the ranks of public defenders are large enough to take care of every defendant on a personal basis.  

That being said, the Innocence Project found in the cases that it was able to get overturned because of a pattern of eyewitness misidentification, false confessions or admissions, unvalidated or improper forensic science, government misconduct, and more.  

While many of these abuses could be traced back to police and prosecutors, the bottom line in each of these overturned cases is that the defense often failed to challenge evidence submitted or testimony offered during the trial or did so in only a minimal way. 

Qualities of an Effective Criminal Defense Attorney 

Time and devotion to you and your case are the primary qualities of an effective private defense attorney, as opposed to the crushing workload of a public defender. The other qualities include experience in the courtroom with your type of criminal charge and the ability and readiness to protect your rights in pre-trial hearings.  

An effective defense attorney will also have the resources to conduct investigations and rely on expert testimony when necessary. And a private defense attorney will also know how to challenge witnesses and evidence submitted so that the prosecution doesn’t get an easy ride in presenting their case. 

Don’t Risk Your Future. Call Now. 

At McCarter | East PLLC, we will use every moment pre-trial to present your side of the case to prosecutors and again during any pre-trial hearings. We have the resources necessary to provide you and your defense with the personalized and individualized attention you deserve.   

You’re not just another case number to us, but a person who deserves every chance to exercise your rights and fight for the best possible outcome.  

If you’re under investigation or have already been charged with a crime in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, contact us immediately. Our team is ready and able to handle any charges that you may be facing.