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Opinion

Readers React: The poor should have a right to an attorney, and not just in criminal cases

In 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that all individuals have the constitutional right to an attorney in a criminal trial.

To the editor: Los Angeles County Public Defender Ricardo Garcia graphically and dramatically explained what a vital change the Supreme Court’s 1963 Gideon decision made on the administration of justice in the United States. As was so ably illustrated, having a lawyer impacts justice for the indigent, ensuring the promise of democracy.

What we need to realize is that liberty demands justice, and justice demands representation in so many life-affecting ways beyond just criminal trials. The lack of having an attorney leads every day to the loss of life’s basic necessities.

Without representation, families are unjustly evicted from their homes and end up homeless, and children go through immigration proceedings without knowing what is happening, resulting in deportations and potentially life-threatening danger that, under the law, should not have occurred. Most of us do not need a lawyer to see a doctor, but the poor often do.

The concept of “civil Gideon” — providing a lawyer whenever basic democratic liberties are at stake, and not just in criminal cases — is an idea whose critical importance is well-accepted and now must be implemented.

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David A. Lash, Los Angeles

The writer is an attorney.

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