A Defendant's Right to Counsel
The right to legal counsel is, possibly, the most celebrated right that we, as American, enjoy. It has been the subject of countless television shows, movies, books, and academic studies. It has also served as the subject matter for far too many legal controversies and decisions to name. Under our Constitution, every Defendant has a right to be represented by a qualified lawyer. However, there are no laws that require a Defendant to have a private attorney, an attorney of specific experience, or en attorney of specific skill.
In fact, controversy has always existed between the pros and cons of having a private lawyer, who charges commensurate with his or her skills and experience, or a public defender. Public Defenders take their fair share of criticism, mainly from Defendants who are either past their trial and serving their sentence or are still being tried and frustrated at the nature of their representation. I, for one, think very highly of the Public Defenders in MAryland. In my experience, they work tirelessly and with little to no reward, financial or otherwise. They suffer the constant barrage of criticisms ranging from the personal to that of their skill and limited availability. In many ways, it simply comes down to numbers. A typical public defender in a large city has far more clients than they, or anyone else, could reasonably handle. This leads to limited availability, opportunities to communicate, and ultimately the time and effort required to fully represent every defendant. The problem(s) with the public defender system and its possible solutions is a far larger subject than that discussed here, but suffice it to say, that the PD's office is there to see that every Defendant's right to counsel is protected.
Whether the Defendant's lawyer is a private attorney or a public defender, his or her role includes making sure the rules of evidence are applied at all levels of a prosecution, including at trial, investigating the underlying facts of the matter including locating and speaking with all relevant witnesses, Questioning the State's witnesses, including examining and cross-examining witnesses at trial, determining whether or not the Defendant should testify. as well as applying the legal knowledge learned through years of studying the law and personally applying it in and outside of the courtroom. It is not difficult to imagine the disadvantage a Defendant would be in if he or she were required to proceed without the aid of legal counsel.