Equal Justice Under Law
“Equal justice under law” is a concept ingrained in the American conscience, rooted in the 14th Amendment, and even inscribed along the front façade of the United States Supreme Court building in Washington DC. Usually when people think of their rights to equal justice, they think of the 6th Amendment in the Bill of Rights that states we have the right to a speedy and fair trial, the right to an attorney, and so on.
But did you know that the 6th Amendment only applies if you are accused of a crime? “You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you.” This is true if you are charged with a crime. But what if you are facing a legal problem that is NOT criminal in nature and you do not have the means to hire an attorney?
Our Community in Need
More than 70% of low-income households in Washington State experience at least one civil legal problem every year, and the average number of problems is 9.3 per household.
The most prevalent issues are health care, consumer-finance, housing, and employment.
The average number of civil legal problems for low-income victims of domestic or sexual violence is almost 20 per year.
The need for civil legal assistance amongst the poorest populations in Snohomish County is overwhelming. Snohomish is Washington’s third most populous and fastest growing county with more than 770,000 residents, at least 100,000 of whom have household incomes below 125% of Federal Poverty level. Too many of our neighbors are unable to address life-changing legal issues, especially when the issues compound each other:
- Domestic and sexual violence victims
- Foreclosures and evictions
- Divorce and child custody
- Consumer credit and debt issues
- Loss of employment
Only 24% of those living in poverty and facing a civil legal issue are able to get some help with their problem.
Lack of meaningful access to legal services can exacerbate unemployment, homelessness, and family disintegration, placing significant additional burdens on social services and the community… and continuing the cycles of poverty.