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Criminal Defendants Poorly Represented Before SCOTUS

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August 11, 2016

In the last decade of U.S. Supreme Court oral arguments, “criminal defendants are almost never represented by expert counsel,” said Harvard Law professor Andrew Manuel Crespo, author of the study. The survey, published in the Minnesota Law Review, found that as many as two-thirds of the arguments on behalf of criminal defendants were presented by lawyers making their first Supreme Court appearances. Solicitor general’s office lawyers had an average of 25 previous arguments when they appeared before the Court, as opposed to criminal defense lawyers’ average of 5.3 previous appearances. In 2014, Justice Elena Kagan pinpointed the same issue at a Justice Department event: “Case in and case out, the category of litigant who is not getting great representation at the Supreme Court are criminal litigants.” That means “you’re getting some of the best lawyering in the country, but only on one side of the equation,” Crespo writes. “A court that’s going to decide these important questions will benefit from hearing quality lawyering on both sides of the issue.”

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