The essence of the article is that many public defenders around the country have so many cases to handle, that they no longer feel they can ethically take on more cases and provide defendants' their Sixth Amendment right to counsel. Here are some portions of the article.
Public defenders are notoriously overworked, and their turnover is high and their pay low. But now, in the most open revolt by public defenders in memory, many of the government-appointed lawyers say that state budget cuts and rising caseloads have pushed them to the breaking point.
In September, a Florida judge ruled that the public defenders’ office in Miami-Dade County could refuse to represent many of those arrested on lesser felony charges so its lawyers could provide a better defense for other clients. ...
“In my opinion, there should be hundreds of such motions or lawsuits,” said Norman Lefstein, a professor at the Indiana University School of Law — Indianapolis, and an expert on criminal justice.
“I think the quality of public defense around the country is absolutely deteriorating,” Mr. Lefstein said, asserting that unless states spent more on lawyers, the courts would force them to delay trials or, as has happened in a few cases, threaten to drop charges against unrepresented defendants.
The most immediate impact of the rushed justice, Mr. Lefstein and Mr. Carroll said, is that innocent defendants may feel pressure to plead guilty or may be wrongfully convicted — which means the real offenders would be left untouched. Appeals claiming inadequate defense are very difficult to win, experts say.
Today, I read a powerful post by a fellow blogger, S from the blog Preaching To The Choir. She is a public defender and reiterated the problem. Read a portion of her post below.
"So where's the love for the Sixth Amendment? By allowing public defender agencies to go underfunded, we're saying we don't much care about that amendment. We don't much care whether people charged with crimes really do have the assistance of counsel. Which means we don't much care whether people receive due process of law (Fifth Amendment), are protected against self-incrimination (5th), are protected against illegal searches and seizures (4th), get to confront their accusers (6th), or are protected against cruel and unusual punishments (8th). Because without an attorney who knows the rules and the law the state has to follow, you're not going to know when the state is overstepping its authority and you're not going to know what argument to make in response."
The Sixth Amendment is so crucial and fundamental to our way of being in the United States, that I think we take it for granted. At any time, any of us could be arrested for a crime. It doesn't matter if we are innocent or guilty. We could still be arrested. How many of us could actually pay for representation? Not many. Even those of us who are attorneys. Many, if not most of us would count on having an attorney appointed to us by the Court.
For a freelance writing assignment, I read a wonderful book called The Smoking Gun, by famous trial attorney Gerry Spence. Spence actually just wrote about this issue on his blog. Below is a portion of my book review. You can read the full review here.
"The Smoking Gun" shows the artistry of a master trial lawyer. It also shows us that our justice system is not always so just. Most of us all live with a little bit of denial that certain things just cannot happen to us. One of them is that we will not be wrongfully arrested for a crime that we did not commit, especially for murder. This book takes away a little bit of that denial. It leaves an unsettling feeling in our minds. Although this is not a story about you or me, it could be.
If you're interested in this topic, you might like to read another post that I wrote here called United We Stand.
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