Misdemeanor courts throughout the U.S. are in a state of shambles, with people convicted without lawyers, public defenders swamped with impossible caseloads, and judges who ignore basic constitutional rights to wade through seas of unnecessary cases, says a National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers study reported by the Seattle Times. Millions of people end up harshly punished for minor offenses that could be handled differently, and taxpayers waste millions of dollars to do it, the report says.
“It’s stunning; it’s alarming; it’s staggering; it’s overwhelming,” said Seattle University law Prof. Bob Boruchowitz, formerly the director of King County’s The Defender Association public-defense firm. “The integrity of the whole justice system is at stake.” The administrator for one of the courts Boruchowitz criticizes says his examples are dated and improvements have already been made. “I think it’s a little bit exaggerated,” said Jill O’Cain, administrator of Lynnwood (WA) Municipal Court.