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In Forma Pauperis

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Fri, Jul 22, 2011

Editor: Readers, let it be made abundantly clear, the following is not an endeavor to implicate findings of esteemed Jury, nor rulings of Honorable Judge. To formulate an informed opinion regarding such grave matters, one should be expected to have reviewed relevant statements, investigative reports, depositions transcripts, and proceedings transcripts.{{more}} Having made no effort to access any of the abovementioned documents, must refrain from speaking on findings and rulings. Secondly, although younger nations may look to progressive policies of other nations as template when institution of new policies is being contemplated, here, example drawn from the United States, a consequence of writer’s familiarity with that system, coupled with unfamiliarity apropos other systems.

July 01, 2011 edition of this newspaper reported on legal matter that involved one Mr. Annel Young, Defendant, and a thirteen-year-old child, the Victim. As reported, Mr. Young was found guilty of various offenses, abduction, indecent assault, and assault, by a jury (of his peers, I surmise), consequently sentenced to a five-year term of imprisonment by presiding Judge. A primary concern: Mr. Young represented himself.

In a landmark ruling, the United States Supreme Court held that Under the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution, state courts are required to provide counsel to indigents. See Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963). The case involved Mr. Clarence Earl Gideon, charged by the State of Florida with breaking and entering with intent to commit petit larceny. Without assistance of counsel, Mr. Gideon defended himself at trial, was found guilty, and sentenced to a five-year term of imprisonment. From his prison cell, Mr. Gideon filed a habeas corpus petition with Florida Supreme Court (the highest court in the State of Florida) claiming that his conviction was unconstitutional, since he did not have counsel at trial. The Florida Supreme Court denied his petition. He then filed a petition for a writ of certiorari with the United States Supreme Court; the Court granted certiorari, that is, agreed to hear his appeal based on its sound discretion, and having heard arguments, ruled for Mr. Gideon, unanimously. The Court had appointed counsel to Mr. Gideon for purposes of the appeal. Mr. Gideon was retried by Florida, a trial in which he prevailed, with the assistance counsel. In ruling for Mr. Gideon, the Court noted the assistance of counsel was a fundamental right, promoted fairness, and guaranteed due process. Justice Black observed, “That government hires lawyers to prosecute and defendants who have the money hire lawyers to defend are the strongest indications of the widespread belief that lawyers in criminal courts are necessities, not luxuries.”

Foregoing summary does not do justice to the Court’s ruling. Reading of the case is encouraged; search Gideon v. Wainwright. Discussion of subject may be beneficial to secondary school social studies students.

Who represented St. Vincent and the Grenadines when Mr. Young was tried? An attorney, I presume – educated at the University of the West Indies, or a British institution. What is Mr. Young’s level of education? What were his grades in school? Did he earn the grades necessary to advance, or was he advanced based on his age? What is his intelligence quotient? What contact(s) has he had with the justice system prior to this matter? What is his mental state? Did he have an ability to appreciate the charges that were pending against him? Was he capable of assisting counsel in his defense? Was he made aware of the basics with regards to conducting his defense? Certainly, Mr. Young was made aware of that old legal adage: “A person who represents himself has a fool for a client.”

Is it moral to allow the Mr. Youngs to defend themselves against the State, a State aided by competent legal counsel? Are we purposefully engaging in self-delusion when we entertain a belief that the Mr. Youngs, and Ms. Youngs too, of St. Vincent and the Grenadines can adequately defend themselves?

A humble suggestion: The Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines should address this gross injustice. By this, I am advocating that the State provide legal counsel, at a nominal fee, to those who cannot afford to retain counsel. I, too, understand the ambivalence even enlightened citizens may experience at the thought of legal services being provided by the State, for the benefit of “lawbreakers,” a classification too often reserved for the poor, the undereducated, the unsophisticated. A more immediate, temporary to permanent, solution may be considered – if not currently in place – the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Bar Association/Legal Fraternity mandating, or encouraging its members to provide pro bono publico legal services to indigents on an annual basis. Rightfully, one should not be mandated to perform services against will that issue was resolved almost 177 years ago, especially when another’s liberty will be at stake. Probably a few good women may take it upon themselves to establish an appropriate institution to address the deficiency.

Pax et justitia.

Alison Robinson

Al Robinson is a practising attorney in the State of Florida. He is a former Public Defender in the Twentieth Judicial Circuit of Florida.

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