Saturday, June 14, 2008

Underfunded Public Defenders In Several States Say They Cannot Do Their Work

Posted by Alan Childress
An ABC News story yesterday, forwarded to us by Paul Caron (visiting San Diego), highlights the resource problem in many states for public defenders just trying to do their constitutionally-mandated effective assistance of counsel.  Similar to a crisis we highlighted in 2006, involving New Orleans' criminal defense system in shards (and a clinical prof jailed for not having the resources to take a case), other states find their PDs taking action at real risk to themselves:

Faced with what they call severe budget shortfalls, several public defender offices across the country say they may soon begin turning away thousands of poor criminal defendants.

Statewide public defenders in Kentucky and Minnesota and local offices in cities such as Atlanta and Miami say budget cuts are forcing them to fire or furlough trial lawyers, leaving the offices unable to handle misdemeanor and, in some instances, serious felony cases.

The cuts leave states scrambling to find a solution to a constitutional dilemma: The Sixth Amendment requires the government to either provide poor defendants with lawyers or release them.

"It is an impending legal crisis in our state," Joseph Lambert, the chief justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court, told ABC News.

The conflicts have prompted at least one lawsuit, brought on Wednesday by several criminal suspects in Atlanta who may temporarily be without lawyers, and could result in some public defenders being held in contempt of court.

The full, detailed story reported by Scott Michels is linked here.

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