“You have the right to an attorney, and if you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you.” We’re all familiar with those words from countless police dramas (hopefully not as much from personal experience). The right to an attorney in criminal matters is guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Unfortunately, there has been a growing gap in this country between the promise of the right to counsel and the reality. This year, with the passage of LD 1132, An Act to Establish the Maine Commission On Indigent Legal Services, Maine takes an important step towards ensuring that the quality of justice a person receives is not dependent on wealth. It is only a first step, and we will all need to do our best to ensure that this new commission is a success and that legal services are fully funded. But, we should all be proud of the State of Maine for recognizing the importance of the fundamental right to counsel.
I'm going to Augusta this afternoon for a signing ceremony at the Governor's office, which will bring together all of the judges, legislators, attorneys, and advocates who helped make this law possible. It is an occassion for celebration but also for renewing our committment to justice.