Friday, January 06, 2006

You Don't Need Your Own Lawyer - You Need Ours

On Friday, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in U.S. v. Gonzalez-Lopez (05-352). The Court agreed to review the Eighth Circuit's holding that a criminal defendant is entitled to an automatic reversal of his conviction and a new trial if the district court denies him representation by his chosen lawyer.

The Sixth Amendment guarantees a defendant's right to "have the assistance of Counsel for his defense" during a criminal prosecution. The Eight Circuit held that the district court's refusal to allow the defendant representation by the lawyer he had chosen and hired violated the Sixth Amendment. This denial, the court decided, "clearly belongs in the class of fundamental constitutional errors which reflect a defect in the framework of the trial mechanism," and thus the defendant was not required to show that the district court's error had deprived him of a fair trial.

In petitioning the Supreme Court to hear the case, the United States argued that the Sixth Amendment's purpose is "to guarantee an effective advocate for each criminal defendant" rather than to guarantee representation by a defendant's counsel of choice. Unless the defendant can show that his inability to choose his counsel undermined the fairness of his trial, the government argued, there has been no Sixth Amendment violation.
What point is there to having a lawyer if that lawyer must be one that the government approves of?  Isn’t that rather contrary to the main point – which is protecting citizens from an overreaching government?

I have lost all patience for the “convict at all costs” mentality that counts for criminal justice these days.  Why is the presumption that what government does is right?  I thought that our country was based on the principle that an individual’s rights and freedoms trumped a government’s desires.

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