Criminal Justice

Kagan says poor defendants are entitled to a 'Ford Taurus' defense

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Justice Elena Kagan says poor defendants don’t have the right to a “Cadillac” lawyer—meaning the best lawyer that money can buy.

But people accused of crimes do deserve at least a “Ford Taurus” defense, Kagan said at a Justice Department event on Monday. In her view, that consists of a lawyer who has the skills, resources and competence needed to thoroughly advise a client, according to The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times.

Yet poor defendants don’t always receive a Taurus lawyer, Kagan said. “I think there’s a lot we still need to do,” she said. Kagan spoke during a presentation marking the 50th anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright finding a Sixth Amendment right to counsel for the indigent.

Attorney General Eric Holder made the same point when he addressed the ABA’s National Summit on Indigent Defense last year. Public defender offices are “underfunded and understaffed,” he said, and representation is hampered by “insufficient resources, overwhelming caseloads and inadequate oversight.” On Monday, Holder announced $1.8 million in new resources to support criminal legal defense, according to the BLT story.

Related coverage:

ABA Journal: “The ‘Obvious Truth’: Gideon asserts only a lawyer’s advocacy can ensure a defendant a fair trial”

ABA Journal: “Fifty years after Gideon, lawyers still struggle to provide counsel to the indigent”

National Law Journal: “Gideon’s promise still unfulfilled”

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