House will praise Sixth Amendment, but not fund it

The House this week will pass a Democratic resolution praising the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution, which gives defendants the rights to a speedy trial and legal counsel.

But the GOP-led House won't go as far as some Democrats want, which is to pass a bill to create a national center that gives financial aid to states so they can ensure poor plaintiffs have access to lawyers.

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Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) has sponsored both measures, and this week, the House will only consider his non-binding resolution, H.Res. 196. That resolution notes that the Supreme Court has found that counsel must be provided to indigent defendants, and says simply that Congress "supports the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, the right to counsel."

It also says Congress supports ways to improve the criminal justice system to ensure indigent defendants are represented by counsel.

But that's a far cry from passing his binding legislation, H.R. 3407, which Deutch introduced last month. Deutch said on October 30 that a national center is needed to direct funds to states to ensure fair trials for all.

"From our unsustainably high rates of incarceration to the lives of families torn apart by unnecessary jail time and wrongful convictions, Congress cannot afford to ignore the economic and moral costs of this crisis in our criminal justice system," he said. "I have introduced the National Center for the Right to Counsel Act because Congress has an obligation to protect the constitutional rights of all Americans and ensure our justice system is administered fairly."

Under his bill, the national center would offer financial support to state and local public defense systems. It would also providing training to help ensure counsel is found for poor defendants.

Deutch's bill is co-sponsored by House Judiciary Committee ranking member John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), and it's expected to pass in the House as early as Tuesday.

The Sixth Amendment is part of the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution that were enacted in 1791. It states:

"In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence."