Every year, I spend a week of my time teaching at the National Criminal Defense College in Macon Georgia. It's a wonderful program that brings together dedicated defense lawyers and helps them to become even better. This year, (as usual) I'll be down there for the second half of the July session. One of the things that always amazes me about being there are the stories I hear from PD's around the country about just how awful the systems they work in are. I was thinking about that when I saw the following:
In Louisiana, defendants may sit in jail for years before trial. (This can happen in NY too!) One defendant waited eight years.
In 2002, a defendant in Louisiana was convicted of second-degree murder in a trial that lasted six hours, even though his public defender had been representing the victim at the time of his death as well as an eyewitness against her client, which were clear conflicts of interest. The lawyer had met with her client all of 11 minutes prior to trial.
In Clark County, Nev., public defenders assigned to juvenile cases are expected to handle more than seven times the number of cases recommended by national standards.
Two states, Pennsylvania and Utah, provide no state funding for public defender systems - despite the 1963 Supreme Court ruling requiring such funding - and fewer than half of the states provide only partial funding.
Wisconsin funds a public defender program, but the eligibility threshold is so low that an estimated 11,000 defendants who meet the federal poverty guidelines failed to qualify for a public defender.
The Mississippi Legislature created a statewide public defender program but never funded it, and last year the legislation creating the system was revoked.
In Virginia, public defenders who handle felony cases are allowed a maximum of $395 per case, even if the case goes to trial.