Most defendants go through Utah's misdemeanor courts without an attorney, says a new report, echoing concerns about the court system nationally, says the Wall Street Journal. The Supreme Court says that a misdemeanor defendant facing potential jail time has a right to an attorney under the Sixth Amendment, and if he can't afford one, the government must provide counsel. Yet the millions of misdemeanor cases annually, accounting for 70 percent or more of criminal cases, often overwhelm available resources. The report was written by the Boston-based Sixth Amendment Center and the Defender Initiative at Seattle University School of Law, with U.S. Justice Department funding.
The study committee called for a statewide indigent-defense commission to help set standards and provide training and economic help to local jurisdictions. Utah and Pennsylvania are the only two states requiring local governments to fund and administer all indigent-defense services, said the Sixth Amendment Center. Some issues highlighted in Utah aren't isolated to that state, said E.G. Morris, an Austin, Tx., attorney and president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. “There's been report after report that has commented on the sorry state of indigent defense,” he said.