The Right to Counsel in a Neoliberal Age

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Blog Post

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The Law and Political Economy Project




When I was a public defender in New York City, I also helped run a court watching program. Volunteers, most of whom were white, college educated, and witnessing arraignments for the first time, would often ask me to explain why the most important person in the courtroom, the accused, remained virtually silent throughout proceedings. Similarly, many expressed surprise at the speed of proceedings. How could someone’s first court appearance, which so directly affects their entire life, be so hasty, so impersonal? One volunteer told me of a defendant who dared to speak up. To her dismay, the judge, then the defense counsel, both rushed to hush him. I explained that they were probably trying to protect the defendant from making an incriminating statement in front of the prosecutor. But my explanation did not satisfy. It seemed as if protecting defendants from self-incrimination was the lawyer’s paternalistic ruse to keep a defendant quiet and steamroll over their preferences. Is the solution then to make criminal courts and lawyers more receptive to the voices and choices of people accused of a crime?


Blog post is related to the author's article (same name): The Right to Counsel in a Neoliberal Age

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