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Sapere aude - dare to be wise
Saturday, February 05, 2005
Helping defend those accused in capital cases
Posted 5:39 PM by Luke
No matter where one stands on the issue of capital punishment, all should agree that as long as it is legal, defendants deserve competent counsel in such cases. If an individual is put to death for a crime he or she did not commit, our legal system has failed in the worst possible way.

To this end, President Bush announced in his State of the Union speech a plan to finance training for defense counsels for capital cases. According to this NYTimes editorial:
According to sketchy details provided by the White House, Mr. Bush will ask Congress to spend $50 million over three years, mostly to underwrite efforts by bar associations and others to provide special training for lawyers, judges and prosecutors involved in capital cases. . .

Beyond expanded training, the new law contains well-written provisions that set standards for effective representation and provide large financial incentives for states to meet them. So all eyes are on Monday's budget - we hope it includes financing for these incentives, which will reveal Mr. Bush's true commitment to death penalty reform.

While certainly admirable in it's intentions, this proposal raises two concerns, as I see them. First: a federalism issue. How much influence should states have in the training and order of their own lawyers, and how much influence should the federal government have? Second: government bias. If the legal profession learns to "lean on" organizations which are financed by the government, for its training, do they give the government too much power to influence the legal profession by its choice of organizations and their positions on matters of law and ethics?

While I raise these issues, I do not purport to have sufficient knowledge to take a stand on either.

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