indigent defendant | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Introduction

An indigent defendant is a person that cannot afford an attorney to defend them against a criminal accusation.

An indigent defendant is a person who is accused of a crime but cannot afford to hire an attorney to represent them. In the United States, indigent defendants have the right to legal representation under the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

The right to legal representation for indigent defendants was established in the landmark Supreme Court case Gideon v. Wainwright (1963). In that case, the Court held that the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of the right to counsel applies to all criminal defendants, regardless of their ability to pay for an attorney. The Court ruled that states must provide legal counsel to indigent defendants who are facing serious criminal charges.

In subsequent cases, the Supreme Court has further clarified the right to counsel for indigent defendants. For example, in Argersinger v. Hamlin (1972), the Court held that indigent defendants facing potential jail time must be provided with legal representation, even if the charge is a misdemeanor.

In addition to the right to legal representation, these defendants also have the right to receive the same quality of legal representation as defendants who can afford to hire their own attorneys. This principle was established in the case of Strickland v. Washington (1984), in which the Court held that criminal defendants have a constitutional right to “effective assistance of counsel.”

The right to effective assistance of counsel requires that indigent defendants receive representation that is competent, knowledgeable, and committed to providing the best possible defense. This includes access to resources such as investigators, expert witnesses, and other support services that can help to ensure a fair trial.

While the right to legal representation for these defendants is well-established, the reality is that many indigent defendants do not receive adequate legal representation. This is often due to underfunding of public defender offices and other legal aid organizations, which can result in overworked and under-resourced attorneys.

To address this issue, some states have implemented programs to provide additional funding for indigent defense or to ensure that public defender offices have adequate resources to provide effective representation. However, many experts argue that more needs to be done to ensure that indigent defendants receive the same level of legal representation as defendants who can afford to hire their own attorneys.

[ Glossary ]

Last Modified: 04/15/2023


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.