On March 18, 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court granted that criminal defendants have the right to a state-appointed attorney if they are unable to afford one themselves. This Sixth Amendment right was found to be constitutionally justified for criminal defendants through the Fourteenth Amendment. Because of this landmark decision, March 18 marks National Public Defender Day.
The Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) works to defend Sixth Amendment Rights through BJA’s Justice For All: Sixth Amendment Training and Technical Assistance (TTA) grant. The grant is “aimed at enhancing the capacity of state and local jurisdictions to protect the core rights enshrined in the Sixth Amendment.”
Through this grant, BJA supported the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and their partners, the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, National Center for State Courts, and RTI International, in launching the Strengthening the Sixth website (https://strengthenthesixth.org/). The website offers helpful information about the application of the Sixth Amendment along with various carefully curated resources. Resource topics include access to witnesses and evidence, confrontation clause and cross examination, impartial and representative juries, public trials, right to counsel, speedy trials, and vanishing trials. In addition to accessing resources, state and local jurisdictions can request TTA related to their application of the Sixth Amendment.
BJA also supported the Center for Court Innovation (CCI) and the National Legal Aid and Defender Association (NLADA) in creating “BJA’s Sixth Amendment Initiative: Strengthening the Constitutional Protections of the Accused: A Report on Ten Sites Participating in Strategic Planning.” While everyone is guaranteed their Sixth Amendment Rights, some individuals lack legal access because of overburdened and/or underqualified lawyers or lack of lawyers to represent them. To help address this issue, CCI and NLADA provided strategic planning support to 10 jurisdictions to protect Sixth Amendment rights. CCI notes of the report: “Grounded in the Center’s unique research-practice approach, this report describes how former public defenders are paired with experienced researchers to work as a team to support the jurisdictions' strategic planning goals. Detailing the successes, challenges, and lessons learned, this report offers insights for future efforts to strengthen the rights of all of those accused of a crime.”