If you are accused of committing a crime, the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees you the right to be represented by an attorney. A defendant who cannot afford to retain the services of an attorney is entitled to have one appointed by the court free of charge. In some instances this court-appointed attorney is a paid employee of a government funded legal aid program, but pro bono criminal lawyers are also frequently called upon to represent defendants.
People may not realize that an attorney defending someone charged with violating state or federal criminal laws might be doing so without expecting to be compensated for his or her services. Pro bono criminal lawyers volunteer their time and services without expectation of payment. Here are three little known facts about pro bono criminal lawyers.
Fact One: Lawyers must aspire to do public good
Lawyers are encouraged by state and federal bar association rules of professional conduct to perform services for those individuals who cannot afford to pay for them. Pro bono is derived from the “pro bono publico” which means “for the public good” in Latin. Pro bono criminal lawyers who are providing services to indigent defendants are maintaining the tradition of members of the legal profession doing public service.
The Model Rules of Professional Conduct of the American Bar Association are the basis for most of the codes of conduct adopted by local bar associations around the country. Under the model rules, lawyers are encouraged to aspire to providing a minimum of 50 hours of free legal services each year to individuals who cannot afford to hire an attorney.
Fact Two: Pro bono criminal lawyers helping to overturn convictions
An important outgrowth of the concept of lawyers providing free legal representation has been creation of the Innocence Network. The network is composed of 69 organizations across the U.S. and around the world that offer pro bono criminal lawyers and investigative services to people who have been wrongly convicted of committing crimes.
The organizations of the Innocence Network use advances in DNA testing to reopen criminal cases and prove the innocence of the individuals wrongly convicted. Pro bono criminal lawyers work with investigators to review the evidence used to convict individuals and use DNA testing to refute the original evidence.
Fact Three: Large law firms committed to providing pro bono criminal lawyers
Large law firms located throughout the country encourage attorneys working for them to perform pro bono work. Instead of individual attorneys committing their time to working pro bono criminal lawyers, the firm takes on the pro bono cases using its attorneys and other resources to defend individuals who cannot afford to pay an attorney.
Pro bono criminal lawyers ease the burden on the criminal justice system
If pro bono criminal lawyers were not available to provide representation to people accused of committing crimes, there would be an adverse impact on the operation of the criminal justice system. Pro bono criminal lawyers provide the representation defendants are entitled to under the Constitution.