Utah’s Supreme Court recently expressed concern that the lack of qualified defense attorneys for indigent death row inmates could unravel capital sentences. In a unanimous decision in the case of death row inmate Michael Archuleta, Associate Chief Justice Michael Wilkins (pictured) said the court might be forced to reverse capital sentences because the low pay and the complexity of such cases have shrunk the pool of Utah attorneys who will accept them. "It falls to us, as the court of last resort in this state, to assure that no person is deprived of life, liberty, or property, without the due - and competent - process of law," Wilkins wrote. "Without a sufficient defense, a sentence of death cannot be constitutionally imposed." He wrote that the justices may soon be forced to reverse a death sentence and impose life without parole on such grounds if the legislature fails to provide adequate resources.
An excerpt from the opinion follows:
In recent years we have become especially concerned with the diminishing pool of competent counsel in capital cases. There is no acceptable justification for this trend. Competent defense and appellate counsel are guaranteed by our constitution. We cannot allow a defendant’s life to be taken by the government without an adequate review of the conviction. Our judicial oath to support, protect, and defend the Constitution must, of necessity, include the requirement that we take measures within our authority and responsibility to see that the mandates of the Constitution are observed.