“You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you.”
That portion of the reading of an arrestee’s Miranda rights has worked its way into the normal lexicon of law enforcement, legal professionals, and watchers of criminal investigation television programs.
The landmark 1963 US Supreme Court decision in Gideon v. Wainwright established the Sixth Amendment right to counsel and due process requires that those who cannot afford a defense attorney in felony cases must be provided one at the expense of the state. That requirement was later expanded to include any case in which one’s liberty may be deprived. One’s right to counsel in such cases has also been recognized by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in case law and in its rulemaking capacity.
What the right does not detail, however, is how well indigent defense counsel (also known as public defenders) should be trained or how public defender offices should be funded. Currently, Pennsylvania is the only state that does not provide funding to counties to run public defender offices.
Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee examined the issue in conjunction with Senate Bill 979, which would provide funding for a training center those involved in indigent criminal defense.