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Why Public Defenders Are Themselves Being Sued

It is the duty of a public defender to defend people in court, but it’s becoming increasingly common for these defenders to have to defend themselves, reports the Christian Science Monitor. With public defense offices overworked and underpaid to the point of a “national crisis,” says former Attorney General Eric Holder, they are finding an unlikely ally in their efforts to gain the budgets and staffing necessary: the people who are suing them. This may be why Derwyn Bunton, chief […]

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Overwhelmed KY Public Defenders Mean Suspects Wrongly Imprisoned

The harried schedule of a Kentucky public defender juggling more than 30 cases underscores a problem the Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy has grappled with for decades: Too many clients and not enough money mean public defenders are being stretched too thin, putting the quality of representation at risk, reports the Louisville Courier-Journal. Tim Young, chairman of the National Association for Public Defense, said the constitutional issues for indigent defendants across the nation are serious: “It means people are going […]

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Fixes Urged For UT Misdemeanor Defendants Who Lack Attorneys

Most defendants go through Utah's misdemeanor courts without an attorney, says a new report, echoing concerns about the court system nationally, says the Wall Street Journal. The Supreme Court says that a misdemeanor defendant facing potential jail time has a right to an attorney under the Sixth Amendment, and if he can't afford one, the government must provide counsel. Yet the millions of misdemeanor cases annually, accounting for 70 percent or more of criminal cases, often overwhelm available resources. The […]

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Lawyers Say Federal Defenders Need More Money, Less Judicial Control

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers contends that the federal government’s system for defending poor people needs to change. NPR says a new study by the group said judges who are supposed to be neutral arbiters too often put their fingers on the scales. The report said defense lawyers for the poor who work in the federal court system need more resources to do their jobs. That means money, not just for themselves, but to pay for experts and […]

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Prosecutor Asks Whether DOJ Would Support More Funds For Local DAs

The U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has filed four “statements of interest” in local court reform cases in the past two years, a time in which bipartisan support has emerged for a renewed examination of how local and state governments are providing legal representation to the poor. “It's very much like having an amicus brief, but it's an amicus brief by the United States Department of Justice,” Norman Reimer of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers tells ProPublica. […]

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CA Lawsuit Says Overworking Public Defenders Violates Defendants’ Rights

An American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit against Fresno County, Ca., charges that defendants’ constitutional rights are being violated because public defenders are being forced to handle an average of more than 600 cases annually, Mother Jones reports. Almost one-fourth of the local population lives below the federal poverty line, and many are minorities, who make up 70 percent of Fresno arrestees. The ACLU argues that the underfunded system has perpetuated greater racial inequalities in the criminal-justice system. “What is happening […]

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ACLU Lawsuit Seeks To Overhaul Idaho Public Defender System

The American Civil Liberties Union has brought its fight to overhaul the criminal defense system for low-income defendants to Idaho with a lawsuit that says the state hasn’t done enough to make sure poor people are being fairly represented, the Associated Press reports. The ACLU contends state officials have known for several years that overwhelming case loads, underfunded budgets and a patchwork system that varies county by county prevent defendants from receiving adequate legal representation guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. […]

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Public Defenders: Don’t Cap Student Loan Forgiveness

A White House proposal to cap payments for those participating in the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program could mean fewer young attorneys will choose to work as public defenders, according to a survey by the National Legal Aid and Defender Association (NLADA), an advocacy group. The PSLF forgives federal student loan balances on which a borrower has paid 10 percent of her income while working in public service for 10 years, but President Barack Obama included as part […]

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Supreme Court Asked To Weigh Asset Forfeiture, Right To Defense Lawyer

The U.S. Supreme Court is being asked to take up a case testing whether federal prosecutors are entitled to freeze all the assets of a criminal defendant even when some of those assets are not tainted by any crime and the funds are needed to pay for a defense lawyer, reports the Christian Science Monitor. The question is whether the defendant's Sixth Amendment right to hire counsel of choice should outweigh efforts by prosecutors to recover the full value of […]

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Public Defender Rapping Seeks To Build “Client-Centered” Strategies For Lawyers

Jonathan Rapping, a lawyer and champion of legal defense by training, is a new MacArthur Fellows. In 2007 Rapping and his wife, Iham Askia, founded the Southern Public Defender Training Center to equip public defenders with the skills necessary to navigate a legal system that often fails poor, minority defendants. NPR reports that the center is now named “Gideon’s Promise” after the famous 1963 Supreme Court decision Gideon v. Wainwright. Rapping says he is resisting a culture that is “judge-centered […]