Prosecutors’ pursuit of convictions at any cost and public defenders’ insufficient resources have too often combined to thwart defendants’ chances of a fair trial. Here’s an alternative approach proposed by Miami’s public defender and a former deputy assistant attorney general.
After repeated warnings from stakeholders in the justice system, including the Supreme Court, Wisconsin has been hit with a federal class-action lawsuit over long delays in appointing lawyers for poor defendants in rural areas.
Defense attorneys spend more time with criminal defendants than anyone else in the justice system. So if they care about better outcomes, they need to go beyond their traditional roles, says the head of the Milwaukee Public Defender’s Office.
Constitutional guarantees of equal protection look hollow to poor, working-class Americans who are forced to turn to under-funded and overworked public defenders’ offices when they are in trouble with the law.
A Brooklyn, N.Y,-based grassroots group is teaching people with substance abuse disorder how to avoid getting ensnared in the criminal justice system. Organizer Jason Del Aguila says the first step is empowering individuals in their encounters with the courts and police.
Stress is an occupational hazard for lawyers, driving some to alcoholism and substance abuse. But when public defenders succumb, it can also affect the right of the poorest individuals to a fair trial, a Crime Report investigation finds.
Wisconsin relies on private lawyers for 40 percent of its public defense work and provides the lowest compensation of any state. Now the state is struggling to get lawyers to take those cases. A petition has been filed with the state Supreme Court to raise defense lawyer pay to $100 an hour from $40.
With overwhelming caseloads, public defenders are suing states for more funding. Defenders are increasingly trying other tactics: refusing to take on new cases, raising money through crowdfunding, even trying to assign a case to a sitting governor.