“For nearly two centuries the lawyers of America have been donating free services to defendants in criminal cases who could not afford lawyers. I submit to you that we have been trying too long in vain to prove the falsity of the old adage ‘you get what you pay for.’ The only way to provide competent representation is to pay for it, and I suggest that the principal source of these funds should be the governmental source.”
(Retired General Charles L. Decker, quoted from handwritten notes for his remarks to the National Defenders Conference, on May 16, 1969.)
The above speech to the National Defenders Conference later prompted testimony to the House Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights, which sought to amend the Criminal Justice Act of 1964. General Decker’s testimony highlighted the early disparities in treatment between Federal Public Defenders and Federal Prosecutors under the original Criminal Justice Act of 1964. The Criminal Justice Act of 1964 arose out of the need to provide public defenders which was epitomized in the landmark case of Gideon v. Wainwright 372 U.S. 335 (1963).The act originally presumed that defense of the indigent would occur out of the generosity of the members of the Federal Bar and all remuneration under the act was considered to be token at best, resulting in widely disproportionate salaries and fees. General Charles Lowman Decker (L’ 1942), as Director of the National Defender Project, testified before congressional committees to the radical concept that if the level of justice was to be equal and fair, that a public defender would need to be offered a salary comparable to that of a prosecutor.
This testimony is part of the General Charles L. Decker Collection, a collection containing papers related to the National Defender Project, which ran from 1963 through 1971. This project was a Ford Foundation grant to the National Legal Aid and Defender Association and was intended to improve the quality and quantity of public defender offices and to research best practices in this area. The collection includes original documentation regarding grant inquiries, proposals, reports, presentations, congressional testimony, personal correspondence, research materials, brochures and seminar materials, budgetary documentation, journal and newspaper articles, legislative and regulatory materials, and other documentation. Specific topics include public defenders, student defense clinics, the 1964 Criminal Justice Act, prisoner representation, and other indigent defense topics. This collection was donated by General Decker, a Georgetown law alumnus and adjunct faculty member. The collection is available for research and a display of materials will be coming soon. For more information, please contact Special Collections at email@example.com.
Prepared by Erin M. Page, Esq.