As we celebrate the 230th anniversary of the adoption of the United States Constitution, I would like to share my thoughts about one particular right that has defined my career. The 6th Amendment commands that a person shall have the right to assistance of counsel in her defense. Walking into a courtroom charged with a crime, lacking the legal acumen, lacking the basic understanding of the criminal justice system, lacking even a basic comprehension of the legal jargon, what could be more daunting?
A right to counsel must not be a privilege only the rich are afforded. We all deserve counsel who will listen, who understands the system, the rules, the players, and the law.
As a public defender serving Centre County for the past 14 years, I’ve been witness to the necessity of a lawyer. While most people are guilty of the crimes they are accused of, not all are. And while most people need some measure of accountability, there must be balance, a sense of fairness. Without competent counsel who will check the government? Who will try to correct mistakes? Who will seek to level the playing field? Who will ensure all our rights are protected? If the Constitution is to have meaning it must protect all people. By ensuring the poor and vulnerable have equal access to competent counsel, the 6th Amendment continues to serve a vital role in American jurisprudence.
Casey McClain, State College