States Heaping Fees, Costs on Indigent Defendants
We’ve all heard the Miranda warnings (hopefully just from watching TV). They include something like, "You have the right to an attorney. If you can’t afford an attorney one will be appointed for you." Well, maybe not. Two new studies show states are making a mockery of the right to counsel by taxing indigent defendants with heavy costs.
- States pass on court system costs to broke defendants
- Some people jailed after release for failing to pay tab
- Defendants waiving right to counsel for fear of fees
Right to Counsel Not Free In Some States
You probably didn’t know this, but many states charge indigent defendants for the right to free counsel. Say what? That’s right, counsel is free, but you have to pay an application fee to get one. Call it shipping and handling. That’s just one of the costs and fees many states heap on poor people put to criminal trial.
We’re talking about a lot of money in some cases. Some defendants have been stuck with thousands of dollars in costs. One of the studies says many indigent defendants waive counsel because they fear having to pay the bills. This seems a serious roadblock to the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of assistance of counsel.
The studies also show that more than ever, people are doing time for owing money. In many instances the debts are the court fees and fines incurred in the criminal case. This seems a perversion of the justice system, one goal of which is rehabilitation. On the other hand, supporters of this approach say it’s only fair for criminal defendants to pay all the costs of their wrongdoing.
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