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Pew – Public Defenders Fight Back Against Budget Cuts, Growing Caseloads

Pew Charitable Trusts: “Public defenders have complained for decades they’ve got too many cases and not enough money — or time — to do their clients justice. Now, more public defense advocates are suing states for more funding. Overwhelmed public defenders also 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. “It’s been a huge national failure,” said William Leahy, New York’s chief public defender, of the whole public defense system, which provides legal representation for poor people charged with more serious crimes, a right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. With declining budgets and crushing caseloads, juggling clients has become a Sisyphean task, public defenders say. In New Orleans, for example, 60 public defenders manage roughly 20,000 cases a year. And overburdened public defenders, they argue, can’t mount a vigorous defense for their clients. As poor defendants languish in jails awaiting representation that’s months or years away, even some conservatives wonder whether it’s time to change the system. “If the government can bring charges against you and you’re unable to have someone represent and defend you, that’s the route to totalitarianism. You’re stripped of your rights,” said Pat Nolan, director of the Center for Criminal Justice Reform at the American Conservative Union Foundation, the advocacy group that hosts the annual Conservative Political Action Conference…”

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