32 Geo. J. Legal Ethics 469 (2019)
Impediments to Independence: How the Workplace Culture of Public Defender Offices Negatively Affects the Representation of Indigent Defendants

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Impediments to Independence: How the Workplace
Culture of Public Defender Offices Negatively
Affects the Representation of Indigent Defendants


MILLAN DAS*


                              INTRODUCTION

  The Constitution guarantees an individual charged with a crime the Assistance
of Counsel for his defense.1 This right is a vital protection of civil liberties. This
right is and should be more than the right of the accused to have a lawyer stand
next to them as they plead guilty. Yet in many places across the United States,
attorneys appointed to defend those who cannot afford one of their own are
administrative formalities rather than zealous advocates.
  Though the Sixth Amendment was ratified in 1791, it was not until 1963 in
Gideon v. Wainwright that the right to counsel was enforced against the states,
requiring them to provide attorneys to represent indigent defendants charged with
felonies.2 In 1972, the right was extended to those charged with misdemeanors
punishable by imprisonment.3 The Gideon Court noted that any person hauled
into court, who is too poor to hire a lawyer, cannot be assured a fair trial unless
counsel is provided for him.4 It emphasized the right to counsel as a safeguard
designed to assure fair trials before impartial tribunals in which every defendant
stands equal before the law.'
  The deprivation of one's liberty by incarceration is a serious matter; as such,
the government's obligation to provide indigent defendants with counsel is
correspondingly essential to a legitimate and fair justice system. The right to
counsel is not a mere formality. The responsibility of appointed counsel is
more than signing off on guilty pleas. Criminal defendants in the United States
have the constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel,6 free of conflicts



  * J.D., Georgetown University Law Center (expected May 2020); B.A., Villanova University (2017).
 2019, Millan Das.
  1. U.S. CONST. amend. VI.
  2. Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963).
  3. Argersinger v. Hamlin, 407 U.S. 25 (1972).
  4. Gideon, 372 U.S. at 344.
  5. Id.
  6. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984) (holding that the Sixth Amendment is violated when
defense counsel's performance falls below an objective standard of reasonableness, giving rise to a reasonable
probability that the outcome would have been different had counsel's performance been adequate).

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