The financial requirements to qualify for a public defender in Maine are so restrictive that a household subsisting on food stamps may be forced to hire their own private attorney if charged with a crime.

The landmark case Gideon v. Wainwright resulted in the government being required to provide legal defense in criminal cases to those who cannot afford it. The Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services continues to fail our poorest citizens in their duty outlined by the Constitution and mandated by the Supreme Court.

A family who cannot afford to feed themselves is hardly in a position to hire a legal adviser that may cost over $400 an hour. The moral imperative to provide legal assistance does not stop there, however.

Ohio State University legal scholar Michelle Alexander wrote in The New York Times that over 90 percent of criminal cases in the U.S. don’t ever reach a jury. Our citizens are surrendering their constitutional rights in the face of a crumbling criminal justice system.

This is why that moral mandate we have as citizens extends to ensuring competent legal defense, and not simply fabricating another way to mass incarcerate the impoverished.

I call on our state Legislature to fulfill their duty in upholding the Constitution, momentarily forget their partisan strife and perform a service that will actually benefit the people of Maine. I dearly hope one of our public servants will choose to champion this cause, and work across the aisles to do so.

Matthew Raymond