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the-practice-defenders.jpg

A Nightmare Policy Dilemma for Liberals

By Dustin Rowles | TV | July 8, 2024 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | July 8, 2024 |


the-practice-defenders.jpg

This article has nothing to do with Presidential politics but everything to do with the Constitution. There’s an interesting, unfortunate, and tragic situation happening in my home state that presents a compelling dilemma, mostly for people who consider themselves liberal.

Maine is the only state in the nation without a public defender’s office. Indigent folks accused of a crime must rely on private attorneys to defend them. The state will pay private attorneys to cover accused criminals who cannot afford an attorney, but there is a serious shortage of attorneys willing to defend criminals.

It’s a small state, and yet, there are over 650 people without an attorney, nearly 400 of whom haven’t had an attorney in over 30 days. A quarter of those people are in jail. Meanwhile, only about 130 attorneys will even take on these cases.

It’s a clear violation of the Sixth Amendment, which guarantees criminal defendants the right to a lawyer. On the liberal side, I daresay there’s very little disagreement around this. Whenever I talk to my friends — lawyers or not — we all agree: This is messed up.

We’re probably all on the same page. However, the situation becomes more complex when we examine the details, and I’ll point you to Emily Allen’s Press Herald piece that successfully lays out the entire issue (gift link). Here’s the gist: In May, a man named Leein Hinkley was arrested for a probation violation stemming from his 2012 conviction for stabbing his girlfriend and for domestic violence committed against another woman. The court set a high bail and ordered that he be found an attorney. A week later, he reappeared in court but didn’t have an attorney. A week later, he still had no attorney, so the judge found there had been a Sixth Amendment violation. A week after that, again without an attorney, the judge made the decision to lower his bail (with significant conditions).

This seemed like the appropriate ruling involving a clear Sixth Amendment violation. Had it ended there, I doubt there’d be much controversy.

Alas, Hinkley broke the conditions of his release, tried to enter his ex-girlfriend’s home, burned down two homes, likely killing at least one man, and then he was killed in a shootout with police.

The cops, of course, were quick to blame the judge for lowering Hinkley’s bail. Even the Democratic governor, Janet Mills, bowed to pressure and criticized the judge, writing, in part:

I strongly disagree with the Judge’s decision. I recognize and appreciate that judges make difficult decisions every day, balancing Constitutional rights, including the right to counsel, with many other considerations - chief among them being the safety of the public. In my view, given the severity of the charges, the defendant’s criminal history and the serious danger he posed, these important, competing interests were not properly balanced in this case.

I disagree with the Governor, who seems to suggest here that the application of the Sixth Amendment depends on the severity of the crime. That’s not how the Constitution works. If the police had violated a person’s Fourth Amendment rights by conducting an unlawful search, the violation would not have been tossed aside because the defendant was accused of murder instead of robbing a hot dog vendor. The Constitution doesn’t have a sliding scale in how it applies, depending on the crime.

But what does make the dilemma more difficult for liberals, perhaps, is the fact that most criminal defendants in these situations committed violent crimes, primarily domestic violence related. We are firm believers in the Constitution, but when it comes to domestic violence, liberals can get very pious — myself included. We’re like, “Everyone deserves the right to an attorney,” but also, “f**k anyone who defends that wife-beater!” In the celebrity world, for instance, we hated the attorneys for both Johnny Depp and Jonathan Majors for defending them and their sleazy tactics.

When we think about Sixth Amendment violations, we like to picture the wrongfully arrested defendant who was treated unjustly by the cops. We don’t like to think of the guy out on probation for stabbing his ex-girlfriend. And that, I believe, is part of why it’s so difficult for Maine to find attorneys who will take on these cases: They don’t want their friends and family screaming, “How could you defend that man for assaulting his wife?”

The Constitution’s protections must apply equally to all, regardless of the nature of their alleged crimes or our personal feelings about them. Defense attorneys who take on these cases aren’t just representing individuals; they’re upholding the principles that form the bedrock of our justice system. That’s why we need to bring back The Practice and remind everyone of the value of defense attorneys, especially for people who cannot otherwise afford them. They are defenders of the Constitution, even if it makes them unpopular in their neighborhood pubs. As we grapple with the complexities of cases like Hinkley’s, we must remember that safeguarding Constitutional rights, even for those accused of heinous acts, ultimately protects all of us. It’s a difficult balance but essential to maintain if we value justice.