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In practice, the right to adequate defense counsel in the United States is disturbingly unequal. Only some American criminal defendants actually receive the effective assistance of counsel. Although some indigent defendants are afforded zealous, effective representation, many indigent defendants and almost all of the working poor are not. The quality of representation a defendant receives generally is a product of fortuity, of economic status, and of the jurisdiction in which he or she is charged. For many defendants, the assistance of counsel means little more than counsel's help in facilitating a guilty plea. With luck, money, and location primarily determining whether a defendant has meaningful access to justice in this country, the promise of equal justice remains illusory.Providing defendants access to competent counsel with the time and resources to meaningfully test the prosecution's case is a badly needed step that would enhance the fairness and reliability of our criminal justice system. It is, however, just one step in fixing a "broken system." For even the presence of a capable defense lawyer does not necessarily ensure that the innocent will, in fact, go free. Contrary to popular wisdom, our system of justice does not overprotect criminal defendants, thereby minimizing the conviction of the innocent. Rather, our state criminal justice systems, as they currently operate, inadequately protect those wrongfully accused of crimes.



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