11.09.2008

Lack of funding denies the accused proper defense

Exodus 23:6 - Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits.

Check out this article in the New York Times: Citing work load, public defenders are refusing new cases

My title reflects what i think is a more appropriate title for this story.

Here is what is happening. Work loads for public defenders are going up, and budgets are going down, and experienced public defenders are quiting due to low pay.

This results in a realty in which one person, the public defender, is being asked to "defend" a ridiculous number of people, putting them in an impossible position.

This is just yet another example of how this nation abuses the poor for the sake of the wealthy. (Though the poor who are actually guilty also contribute to the problem.) And granted it is more of a local issue, as various jurisdictions have various levels of resources. However the reality is that people who we say are innocent until proven guilty, do not have adequate defense, and this in a nation with the largest GDP in the history of the world.

Isaiah 5:23 - Woe to those who acquit the guilty for a bribe, but deny justice to the innocent.

Excerpts:
Public defenders’ offices in at least seven states are refusing to take on new cases or have sued to limit them, citing overwhelming workloads that they say undermine the constitutional right to counsel for the poor. 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.

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.

Here in the 11th Judicial Circuit of Florida, the defenders’ office has had its budget cut by 12.6 percent in the last two years, said the elected chief defender, Bennett H. Brummer, and the workload has climbed by 29 percent over the last four years.

State Senator Victor D. Crist, chairman of the Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Committee, is a vocal critic of the Miami-Dade lawsuit, saying Mr. Brummer is “blowing things out of proportion.”

Mr. Crist said the judicial system had faced smaller cuts than other parts of government. Although no defendant should be denied due process, he said, the courts, state’s attorneys and public defenders must all tighten their belts.

Michigan requires counties to protect the indigent without providing state funds, resulting in large disparities. In some counties, those charged with misdemeanors are not even offered a lawyer; in others, the judge hires one for a flat fee, creating a conflict of interest and incentives to skimp on defense.

A few weeks earlier, he had to tell a 53-year-old man who was charged with grand theft, for stealing a few locks from a Home Depot, that the state was offering five years because earlier convictions made him a “habitual offender.” In a discussion in a holding pen, his client asked, “Won’t they take one year?” Mr. Jones went back to the prosecutors, who calculated that the minimum sentence, under a scoring system here, would be 2.6 years. But Mr. Jones had no time to check their math.

The man was already resigned to taking that sentence when the prosecutors discovered their calculations were mistaken: the correct minimum was 366 days.

“You see how easily accidents can happen?” Mr. Jones said. “He easily could have gotten three years instead of one.”


Amos 2:6-7 - They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. They trample on the heads of the poor as upon the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed.

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