For many of those accused of the most serious crimes in New Orleans, there will be no visit from an attorney; no help in negotiating a bond; no investigation into their alleged offense, reports NPR. Public defenders say they don’t have the resources to handle the city’s indigent caseload after a million-dollar budget shortfall. They are turning away some suspects who can’t afford to pay for their own legal representation. “And without that, there could be evidence that go missing. There could be videos that are erased or taped over. Witnesses’ memories fade,” says Orleans Deputy District Defender Jee Park. “So there are many unfortunate circumstances that can arise if you don’t have an attorney who is working on your case right away from day one.”
This office handled 22,000 cases last year. Now, there’s a waiting list for felony suspects who’ve been granted a court-appointed lawyer. Marjorie Esman of the ACLU of Louisiana says, “People are going to be languishing in jail. It’s gonna backlog the court system for who knows how long until this can be resolved.” The ACLU has filed a class action federal lawsuit on behalf of suspects who can’t afford lawyers. Esman says they have a constitutional right to legal representation. Louisiana has the nation’s highest incarceration rate. It also has one of the highest rates of exonerations. New Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, acknowledges the public defender overload around the state. He says there’s no plan for more funding with the state facing a $1.9 billion budget shortfall.