This country has so much cleaning up to do even in areas you would think were covered and done well. Look at the court rooms and you will see the same lawyers there every day and nothing goes to trial and most people are convinced to take a plea bargain just to clear the room. Are they really guilty or have they been advised to make a deal? Who are these public defenders anyway? We know them mostly as the people they talk about when you are being arrested and your Miranda Rights are being said to you. You know the stuff that says, “You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to an attorney. If you can’t afford an attorney we will provide you with the most overworked underpaid non caring lawyer on earth!” Well maybe not exactly like that.
The right to have an attorney is one of the greatest things provided to everyone arrested. It is a law that we only had since 1963. When the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that any person who is too poor to hire a lawyer cannot be assured a fair trial unless a lawyer is provided for them. It is a concept so obvious you find it hard to believe that there was a time we didn’t have the law. The problem now is that the public defender’s office is swamped with too many cases. It seems that no one can afford to pay a lawyer to defend them these days. Now there are anywhere from 60 to 90% of defendants who need a publicly funded attorney.
It is not unusual that 20 public defenders could be handling up to 250 cases. In New Orleans each public defender has 350 cases to defend at a time. In Fresno County they handle 1000 felonies per year meanwhile the state guidelines state only 150 felonies. The states aren’t even following their own rules. With caseloads that heavy a public defender does not have the time to prepare a proper defense. Some counties don’t even have a public defender’s office. So their solution is to never go to trial. The lawyers try to convince their many clients to plead guilty and end the case. 90-95% of people end in guilty pleas.
The public defender’s system is dangerously under resourced. 40% of all county-based public defender offices have no investigators staff. Without someone to research a defiance how can anyone represent a client? It is the old age story. If you have money you can buy the best representation in court. If you are poor, good luck finding a poor lawyer who has the time to discuss your case. Access to a lawyer is supposed to be a Constitutional right that seems to be coming more often a threat. In 4 states, Maine, Virginia, Nebraska and Missouri you can make so little money that you can apply for food stamps but still not be poor enough to get state funded representation in court. If the Supreme Court can rule on same sex marriage for every state why can’t they vote on same representation for poor people in every state?
In at least 40 states you can be billed for a public defender. How can you tell someone the service of an attorney is free and then charge them for it? This is not Candy Crush this is the way our nation performs justice! People are being held in jail simply for fees they can’t pay. How can you work to pay the fees if you are being held in jail? The cost to keep in jail are more than the fees. It is all so stupid. So here we are 50 years later where poor people are being charged for an obviously broken system. Hold hope that a politician somewhere in America will take on issues that ate important to all Americans.