Open Letter to Politicians Attacking Criminal Defense Lawyers

The Republican Governor’s Association has launched an attack ad against South Carolina Democratic Party candidate for Governor, state Senator Vincent Sheheen.  The ad can be viewed by clicking the link to this news story. 

Not only is this political ad designed to stir emotions, it is also misleading and fails to recognize the vital role of criminal defense lawyers in our country’s justice system.   The Right to Counsel is so fundamental to our way of life that our Founding Fathers guaranteed that right in the Sixth Amendment to the United State’s Constitution.

Zealous representation by criminal defense lawyers also serves an important public safety function.  No one wants to see an innocent person convicted.  Not only is an innocent person incarcerated, but also a guilty one remains at large.

It is troubling that neither Governor Nikki Haley nor Senator Sheheen has condemned this ad.  State law gives South Carolina’s Governor a role in overseeing criminal defense representation.  Not only does South Carolina’s constitution guarantee the right to counsel in criminal cases, our state’s obligation to provide counsel to indigent defendants is carried out through the South Carolina Commission on Indigent Defense.  After receiving input from the South Carolina Bar and Public Defender Association, the Governor appoints nine members of the Commission.  That agency’s budget is addressed in the Governor’s annual budget recommendations to the General Assembly. Both candidates seem to be ignoring those responsibilities.

Please do not be quick to judge criminal defense lawyers.  They play an important role in our state and national criminal justice systems.   Just ask anyone—or the family members of anyone—who has relied on the services of a criminal defense lawyer.