Do You Really Have A Right To A Lawyer?

Posted by Christopher Shumate | May 09, 2016 | 1 Comment

I suspect the vast majority of people would answer affirmatively to the question: Do you have the right to legal counsel in a criminal matter in Charlotte, North Carolina?  I suspect the response would be a simple, unequivocal "yes".  In reality, your right to legal counsel is under a steady attack.  Your right to legal counsel is dwindling right under your nose, and you may not even know it.  

Why is this occurring?  Let's look at several factors. 

Budget Cuts:  Many state governments have grappled with budget constraints in recent years.  The North Carolina legislature has been tasked with difficult decisions regarding reduced financial resources.  However, as the Republican majority emerged, significant cuts to the budget of the Office Of Indigent Defense Services increased.  This is not a political statement; it's simply a fact.  The lack of appropriate funds to represent indigent clients is an enormous obstacle.  

Failure to Pay Counsel Properly:  The failure to properly pay legal counsel for representing appointed clients has a snowball effect.  As this problem persists, the more qualified attorneys stop handling these cases, and the quality of the legal work suffers.  As the problem reaches a certain point, we run the risk of there being no lawyers willing to serve as appointed counsel.  This issue is abundantly evident.  The current hourly rates for a North Carolina appointed cases are artificially low.  I have seen instances of Judges failing to  award payment to attorneys for appropriate legal representation.  I have also seen Judges fail to reimburse attorneys for proper expenses incurred in representing an indigent client.  Another common issue is unnecessary delay in the payment process resulting from the failure to timely process attorney fee petitions.  I believe appointed counsel should submit proper fee petitions.  I also believe those attorneys should be promptly paid for their efforts.  

Accepted norms:  As noted, I have seen a trend towards the reduction of individual rights in our state recently.  This is not an isolated issue. The Philadelphia Department of Public Safety is currently refusing to pay appointed attorneys for nearly any work, except for actual trials.  Any experienced attorney will explain that a successful resolution of a case often requires significant efforts outside of the courtroom (trial).  In our state, the legislature has already eroded the right to counsel in various avenues.  For instance, a defendant is now only entitled to legal counsel for certain misdemeanors.  

Ignorance of the general public:  Simply stated, those most affected by this issue are the least educated about the issue.  The individuals most harmed by this trend are indigent defendants.  However, these individuals tend to be less likely to participate in the political process.  They tend to pay less attention to current events such as this in the news.  Indigent defendants in Charlotte are not actively pressuring Raleigh legislatures to provide proper legal counsel.  

This is a complicated topic.  One short blog post is certainly not going to solve the issue.  The Office Of Indigent Services works daily to address this matter, and the varies issues that arise within.  I give a lot of credit to this organization for the efforts to coordinate the legal services throughout the many communities in our state utilizing the limited financial resources available.  I certainly recognize there is limited resources to offer indigent legal services.  I believe we must provide these services efficiently, and we must also treat our human resources valuably.  This is also an issue that must not go unnoticed; we must find a way to really explain to people just what a danger this trend really is.  

About the Author

Christopher Shumate

Mr. Chris Shumate is a native of Gastonia, North Carolina, and worked various jobs while pursuing his undergraduate and Juris Doctor education, including several heavy manual labor and skilled trade positions. In his practice, Mr. Shumate often encounters circumstances where these prior experiences are helpful in representing you. Upon graduating law school from the University of South Carolina, Mr. Shumate joined one of the Carolinas' larger defense firms, where he represented a diverse set of employers and insurance companies in civil cases and workers' compensation claims across the Carolinas. Chris utilized this experience to obtain a working knowledge of the insurance industry, and build personal contacts used today in representing you. Mr. Shumate ultimately decided he wanted to focus his law practice on assisting those who have been injured, and doing so with the focus on a personal relationship that is uncommon in the bigger firms. Mr. Shumate's also has a passion for assisting those facing the challenges of the criminal legal system. By representing individuals in a variety of criminal and traffic matters, Mr. Shumate works to achieve the best possible result for each client regardless of the charges levied by the prosecution. Chris has tirelessly pursued his mission of helping people from all walks of life throughout the Carolinas with a variety of legal matters. If you are interested in learning more about Chris Shumate and The Shumate Law Offices, please contact us at 704.371.5059. We look forward to assisting you to achieve a positive result in your legal concern. Education J.D., University of South Carolina B.S., University of South Carolina Jurisdictions Admitted to Practice N.C. State BarS.C. State BarU.S. District Court Western District of North Carolina Professional & Bar Association Memberships N.C. Bar Association S.C. Bar Association Mecklenburg County Bar N.C. Academy Of Trial Lawyers American Association For Justice


Melissa Liaison Reply

Posted May 10, 2016 at 15:29:02

I experienced this first-hand and learned that it was true when I assisted a young woman with mental illness and an intellectual disability. After assisting with her release and coordinating her community services, I contacted the public defender’s office to advise them that she was very low functioning and likely not competent. I was advised that due to the fact that she had no previous record and her misdemeanor was a low level offense, she would not be assigned an attorney. She only had one relative for support and that person was also not educated. Therefore, I felt compelled to attend her court hearing and speak on her behalf because honestly she was not capable of doing so and would have agreed to anything or just started crying when asked a question. This is a huge problem as far as I am concerned and it affects the most vulnerable people.

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