Letter to the President of the Senate and to the Speaker of the House on the Need for Improving the Administration of Criminal Justice
To diminish the role which poverty plays in our federal system of criminal justice, I am transmitting for consideration by the Congress proposed legislation to assure effective legal representation for every man whose limited means would otherwise deprive him of an adequate defense against criminal charges. The need to protect this basic right makes enactment of this measure imperative.
In the typical criminal case the resources of government are pitted against those of the individual. To guarantee a fair trial under such circumstances requires that each accused person have ample opportunity to gather evidence, and prepare and present his cause. Whenever the lack of money prevents a defendant from securing an experienced lawyer, trained investigator or technical expert, an unjust conviction may follow.
The Attorney General's accompanying letter describes the deficiencies in the present system. These defects have prevailed for many years despite persistent pleas for legislation by the Judicial and Executive branches and the organized Bar. Fairness dictates that we delay no longer.
I commend the proposed Criminal Justice Act of 1963 for prompt and favorable action by the Congress. Its passage will be a giant stride forward in removing the factor of financial resources from the balance of justice.
JOHN F. KENNEDY
Note: This is the text of identical letters addressed to the Honorable Lyndon B. Johnson, President of the Senate, and to the Honorable John W. McCormack, Speaker of the House of Representatives.
The text of the draft bill and of the Attorney General's letter was not released.
John F. Kennedy, Letter to the President of the Senate and to the Speaker of the House on the Need for Improving the Administration of Criminal Justice Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/237090