Can't say it any better than SBM President Bruce Courtade in this month's Michigan Bar Journal:
Bringing Michigan’s faltering system of indigent criminal defense into compliance with constitutional mandates will not be an inexpensive proposition. But as lawyers – members of a profession founded upon the idea that equal access to the courts is of paramount importance regardless of socio-economic status – we know the costs incurred in assuring the appointment of competent counsel for indigent criminal defendants pale in comparison to the alternative: the deprivation of constitutional rights based solely on an inability to afford counsel.
In the Book of Kings in days of old, Gideon used a trumpet to vanquish his foes. Fifty-one years ago, Clarence Earl Gideon used a pencil to draft a request that the highest court in the land instruct the states that our constitutional rights are inviolate regardless of economic status. And fifty years ago this month, the Supreme Court agreed with him, unanimously ruling that the Sixth Amendment’s right to counsel applies regardless of whether a defendant can afford to pay.
By analogy, Mr. Gideon’s pencil became a horn, sounding a clarion call for justice regardless of socioeconomic status. Over time, that call has become muted as our State struggled with, and at times ignored, the issue of how best to comply with the minimum standards set forth by the Gideon Court. Thanks to the countless people who have worked on this issue, progress is being made. But, until we have an indigent criminal defense system that truly offers equal access to justice for every Michigan resident, Gideon’s trumpet will remain muted. For justice to ring loud and clear from Temperance to Ironwood, from New Buffalo to De Tour Village, lawyers, legislators, government leaders, and others must keep working to assure that the guarantees afforded by the Constitution are a reality for anyone accused of a crime in our State.
Art: William Blake (British, 1757–1827), The Last Trumpet, ca. 1780–85. Pen and gummed carbon black ink, layered gray ink washes, over graphite. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Fletcher and Van Day Truex Funds, 2011 (2011.448)