Public defender system struggles under huge caseloads | McClatchy
Anyone who’s ever been arrested or watched a television cop show knows the fundamental right Gideon helped win for every American:
“If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, one will be appointed to represent you.”
But this month, the 50th anniversary of that landmark Supreme Court ruling, here in Gideon’s home state and elsewhere around the country, the criminal justice system continues to struggle to live up to the promise demanded by the Supreme Court in 1963.
“The truth is we clearly haven’t,” said Abe Krash, a Washington, D.C., lawyer who helped represent Gideon in his Supreme Court case. “In public defender offices, there are many extremely conscientious attorneys, but they are tremendously underfunded and overburdened.”
A 2011 report by the Justice Policy Institute found that most of the country’s public defender offices and systems lacked enough attorneys to meet nationally established caseload guidelines. Also, the report found that most defender offices did not have sufficient support staff, such as investigators and paralegals.
“When defenders do not have access to sufficient resources, they may be unable to interview key witnesses, collect or test physical evidence, or generally prepare and provide quality defense for their client, resulting in poorer outcomes for the client,” according to the institute’s report.