As it hits the half-century mark, the historic 1963 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that every criminal defendant has a right to a lawyer casts a harsh spotlight on Philadelphia's thrift-shop system of paying counsel appointed to represent defendants facing the death penalty.

City courts - with backing by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court - dramatically boosted fees for lawyers in capital cases a year ago, but Philadelphia remains far behind other major cities in providing adequate resources to assure these defendants' rights.

Meanwhile, city prosecutors under District Attorney Seth Williams continue to pursue death-penalty cases, while Pennsylvania remains an outlier among more progressive neighbors like New Jersey, New York, and Maryland, where the death penalty has been scrapped.

That leaves civil-rights lawyers who have challenged the traditionally low fees in death-penalty cases with only one recourse - to push for greater reforms.

Read more in The Inquirer on Monday.

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