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Michigan Legal Milestones
43. Guaranteeing All Defendants' Right to Legal Counsel

A 'Laws of Michigan' book detailing Public Act 109 of 1857


Michigan Bar Journal: With trailblazing 1857 law, Michigan guaranteed all defendants' right to legal counsel

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A step toward a better system of justice

The U.S. Bill of Rights guarantees the right to legal counsel for anyone accused of a crime. Attorneys have an ethical obligation to assist in meeting the legal needs of the poor and do so in many ways. While they have always worked to uphold the 6th Amendment’s right to counsel guarantee, they themselves had no guarantee of being paid anything at all for their work for poor defendants.

Allegan County Prosecutor Gilbert Moyers recognized that a constitutional right that depended entirely on lawyers’ free service was not sustainable or fair. When he was elected to the Michigan Senate in 1856, Moyers took a critical step toward improving Michigan’s criminal justice system by ensuring that people accused of crimes were represented by compensated attorneys. He introduced a bill to provide court-appointed attorneys $25 for murder cases, $10 for other felonies, and $5 for misdemeanor cases. A lawyer “compelled to follow a case into another county of into the Supreme Court” could “recover an enlarged compensation.” The bill became Public Act 109 of 1857 just a month after being introduced.

Efforts to promote equal and meaningful access to justice in Michigan continue to this day, and lawyers continue to contribute to the goal of access to justice for all.

Placed by the State Bar of Michigan, and the Allegan County Bar Association 2022