Attorneys for Crime Defendants Stumble in Supreme Court

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A study of a decade of data appears to confirm a widely held impression that criminal defendants often get lousy legal representation before the U.S. Supreme Court, reports the New York Times. “Criminal defendants are almost never represented by expert counsel in arguments before the Supreme Court,” Andrew Manuel Crespo, a law professor at Harvard, wrote in the new study published in The Minnesota Law Review. In the 10 years ending in June 2015, he found, as many as two-thirds of the arguments on behalf of criminal defendants were presented by lawyers making their first Supreme Court appearances.

“The justices have come to expect a level of expertise,” Crespo said in an interview. “One important constituency that has been left behind by that explosion of expertise is criminal defendants.” Crespo, drawing on earlier studies, treated lawyers as experts beginning with their fifth arguments before the justices. About half of the arguments in civil cases were made by such expert lawyers, compared with fewer than a quarter for criminal defendants.

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