To the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services:
In 1963, in the landmark case Gideon v. Wainwright, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unequivocally that a defense attorney is a necessity in criminal cases, and that if a defendant can't afford to hire a lawyer, the state must provide one. Earlier this year, the 6th Amendment Center – a nationwide non-partisan organization dedicated to studying effective counsel – found Maine's system for providing counsel in these cases to be deficient.
The absence of a strong, well-resourced indigent defense system – one where defendants have an attorney who is familiar with their case and mounts a robust defense on their behalf – undermines the Constitution, leads to deeply unfair results, and contributes to the overburdened and wasteful jail and prison systems in our state.
You now have an opportunity to make needed improvements to Maine's indigent legal system, so that all people in our state have access to the services that are their right.
Bringing Maine's system in line with our constitutional obligations and ideals of justice and fairness will require a broad and varied approach. But we trust that your expertise, combined with the guidance of the 6th Amendment Center report and the many advocacy organizations eager to work with you on this effort, can bring important change.