Quitman County, Mississippi, is suing the state seeking money to defend indigent defendants. The county, about 60 miles south of Memphis, is located in one of a few states that does not pay to defend the poor in cases not subject to the death penalty. The New York Times says that the case, which is set for trial this month, echoes the 40-year-old Supreme Court case of Gideon v. Wainwright, which said that poor people accused of serious crimes are entitled to free legal aid.
Prosecutors say that poor defendants were not promised more than passable representation. Joshua Marquis, district attorney in Astoria, Ore., told the times that, “In noncapital cases, indigent defendants get anywhere from an A to a C defense. I think they’re entitled to a C-plus level defense.” Twenty-seven states pay all or most of the bill to represent the poor; 22 rely mostly or entirely on counties; and Alabama depends on fees collected from others using the court system. Only a small number of states pay nothing toward indigent defense in noncapital cases: Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming.