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JFK Speaks Out on Public Defenders

Mar. 8, 1963 - President Kennedy urged Congress today to authorize the use of government-paid public defenders in federal courts for individuals too poor to hire lawyers in criminal cases. In submitting a bill that would create the public defender system, the President said it would “diminish the role which poverty plays in our federal system of criminal justice.” “Whenever the lack of money prevents a defendant from securing an experienced lawyer, trained investigator, or technical expert, an unjust conviction may follow,” he said. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy joined in urging the legislation. He observed that under the existing system, no attorney is appointed by a court for a needy defendant until he is actually arraigned and required to plead to the charges against him.

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