Recently the United States Senate
held a first-of-its-kind hearing to shine much-needed light on pervasive — and largely unexamined — problems in the largest segment of our criminal justice system, reported the Washington Times
. Republican Chairman Chuck Grassley
of Iowa heard expert testimony describing widespread violations around the country of the Sixth Amendment right to legal counsel for Americans charged with misdemeanors.Our nation prosecutes an estimated 10 million misdemeanors each year. Although some misdemeanor offenses criminalize dangerous conduct — such as assault or driving under the influence — most are for far less dangerous, nonviolent conduct, often involving no harm to another person. These include loitering, minor drug possession offenses, and even boating and fishing license violations.
Troubling recent research shows that many state, county and municipal court systems routinely undermine and often directly violate the constitutional right to counsel in misdemeanor cases. In characterizing this evidence, Mr. Grassley
stated, “The Supreme Court’s Sixth Amendment decisions regarding misdemeanor defendants are violated thousands of times every day.” No other Supreme Court decisions “have been violated so widely, so frequently, and for so long,” he added.
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