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.
The state prison population has declined under the six-year-old plan to keep many convicts in local jails, the National Forum on Criminal Justice was told yesterday. But violent crime has also gone up recently.
To avoid court, motorists can write a check directly to the local prosecutor under an unusual system known as “DA Pre-Trial Diversion.” The use of diversion seems to be growing, raising eyebrows among public defenders who rely on traffic fines for funding.
The city’s chief public defender says 52 attorneys are responsible for 20,000 criminal cases each year. He says the New Orleans courts have become a criminal processing system–“a conveyor belt that starts when you are arrested.”
A guilty plea is likely to win you less leniency in sentencing if you’re an African-American male, according to a study published in Justice Quarterly. With 95% of all convictions the result of guilty pleas—many of them arranged through plea bargaining—the study authors argue that more attention needs to be paid to potential bias in the early phases of case processing.
Lawsuit by the ACLU and the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center says it would take an additional $20 million per year and 300 more lawyers for the public defender system “to meet the constitutional floor of providing minimally adequate representation to indigent defendants.”
The lawsuit describes defendants waiting months in jail to meet a lawyer, defenders who are overworked and so little funding that in some areas, low-level offenders don’t get a public defender at all. Without lawyers to advocate for them, some defendants have been advised to plead guilty rather than pursue their right to try clearing their names.