Public Defenders- Scales of justice Tilted and Eyes Wide Open
NPR will be airing a program today on 'All Things Considered' (check your local area for broadcast times) that deals with indigent legal services and the Public Defenders Office in Detroit, MI. While this program deals with a specific city the problem of the poor receiving sub-standard legal services all over America. One wonders why there are so many poor in prison and the affluent seem to "get off' with lighter sentences or having their cases thrown out completely.
The constitution seem to imply equal protection under the law and a blind lady with equal scales of Justice for all it's citizens. In reality the constitution just doesn't seem to apply and The Lady has her eyes wide open and the scales are leaning toward prosecutors to those who can't afford legal services and have to rely on a Government run public defense. All over the country, these public defenders offices are poorly funded and thinly staffed. For the clients staffing and funding issues have provided them with little or no defense.
Politisite and Iron Mill News is in the middle of an investigation on indigent legal services in South Carolina. It is ironic that NPR has done a story on Detroit. They seem to cast the blame on attorneys, where we will look at a system broken. The program is also available on mp3 format.
The right has been enshrined in the Constitution: Anyone accused of a crime has the right to a lawyer, no matter how poor they are. Public defenders are supposed to represent the people who can't afford lawyers. But they've been so overworked and underpaid for decades, the system is in crisis. And the recession has made the situation worse.
Groups of lawyers and advocates have filed lawsuits in states from New York to Florida to Arizona charging that low-income people can't get a fair trial. Public defenders in Kansas and Minnesota are refusing cases outright.
In Michigan, the system has been broken for decades. Detroit public defenders face abysmal pay, unmanageable caseloads and flimsy oversight.
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