Public Defenders

April 18, 2008 • Volume 18, Issue 15
Do indigent defendants get adequate legal representation?
By Barbara Mantel

Introduction

The trial of Brian Nichols, who allegedly shot and killed a judge, a court reporter, a sheriff's deputy and a U.S. customs agent, has cost Georgia nearly $2 million so far and drained money from other capital cases. At least a dozen other death penalty trials have been delayed because assigned defense lawyers couldn't be paid.  (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
The trial of Brian Nichols, who allegedly shot and killed a judge, a court reporter, a sheriff's deputy and a U.S. customs agent, has cost Georgia nearly $2 million so far and drained money from other capital cases. At least a dozen other death penalty trials have been delayed because assigned defense lawyers couldn't be paid. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Over the years, several landmark Supreme Court decisions have established the right of an indigent defendant to the assistance of counsel at public expense. But today critics say the nation's public defender system is in crisis. Roughly 80 to 85 percent of all criminal defendants in state courts, where most crimes are prosecuted, are indigent and represented by some kind of public counsel at an annual cost to states and counties of more than $3.5 billion. But many public defense lawyers and researchers argue that much more needs to be spent because funding for many indigent defense systems is "shamefully inadequate." Excessive caseloads, high turnover of underpaid lawyers, poor training and supervision and judicial interference are also blamed for many of the deficiencies. According to one expert, in some poorly funded systems in the field, a single public defender handles 1,000 cases a year.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Lawyers
Oct. 07, 2011  Legal-Aid Crisis
Apr. 18, 2008  Public Defenders
Nov. 09, 2007  Prosecutors and the Law
May 22, 1992  Too Many Lawsuits?
Jul. 20, 1984  Lawyers in America
Aug. 02, 1972  Legal Profession in Transition
Feb. 27, 1963  Public Defenders
BROWSE RELATED TOPICS:
Civil Rights and Civil Liberty Issues
Criminal Law Procedure and Due Process
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