Court Finds Counsel Ineffective as a Result of Fee Conflict

Tomorrow marks the 50 year anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright – the Supreme Court decision guaranteeing free counsel to all persons charged with a serious crime felony.  In the years since Gideon, the criminal justice system has grown exponentially. More people are arrested, prosecuted, sentenced and imprisoned than the Court could possibly have imagined in 1963.  In 2006 the FBI estimated that approximately 14 million arrests occurred nationwide.  States struggle with the responsibility to pay for the provision of counsel and to ensure quality of counsel.

When defenders accept too many cases, their quality of work suffers and they risk violating their ethical obligation to provide competent services.  Propelled by the need to process cases, state courts rarely concern themselves about whether counsel are overwhelmed with responsibility or whether workload issues impact quality of lawyering.  In an unusual decision the Supreme Court of Kansas, reversed a murder conviction because the defendant’s lawyer, a solo practitioner with a “high volume” law practice requiring near daily court appearance, was more devoted to cases whose billable hours were more likely to produce actual income than to the client charged with capital murder who would never be able to pay for his services.  The court found the financial disincentive discouraged counsel from investigating, adequately preparing, and from withdrawing as counsel so that he could testify for his client as an alibi witness.

To read the case, click here:


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