‘Free’ Legal Representation Now Comes at a Cost

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A new Minnesota law that requires poor people to pay as much as $200 for free legal representation in criminal cases is under attack by public defenders and some judges, who contend that it undermines the 40-year-old legal tenet established by the U.S. Supreme Court in Gideon v. Wainwright.

Minnesota is one of a growing number of states facing enormous budget deficits that are beginning to charge indigents for their constitutional right to legal representation, says the Washington Post. States including Arkansas, Ohio and New Jersey charge the poor $10 to $200 for lawyers — fees that proponents argue are nominal and allow everyone to share the burden. Maryland charges adults $50 and juveniles $25.

But opponents say even the smallest of fees can be a burden for the poor.

For years, Minnesota law said that indigents could be charged $28 for legal representation but that judges could waive the fee — and they routinely did. A recent law revamped the fees, so that they ranged from $50 to $200 depending upon the crime that was charged, and made them mandatory. Proponents, who include some public defenders, said it was needed because the state faced a $4.2 billion deficit that could force layoffs of teachers and cut programs for young people and the elderly.

Link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A50679-2003Oct19.html

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