The Constitution is the bedrock of our Republic. Not only did it formulate a form of government meant to distribute powers among the branches, it also established personal liberties and rights. Among those rights, includes the right to an attorney. The Fifth and Sixth Amendments should be respected.
Unfortunately, throughout our country, lack of public funding has led to a crisis in adequate criminal representation. The New York Times recently reported that Louisiana defendants are without counsel. In some situations, the accused remain in jail without a trial date. Some in the criminal defense bar are being compelled, without pay, to represent indigent defendants.
Louisiana judges have threatened to release defendants due to the crisis. Despite being outright appalling, Louisiana does not stand alone. States are struggling to find ways to pay for public defenders. As is, public defenders face enormous challenges: having to litigate hundreds of cases without much assistance. Instead of justice being served, often, it is an assembly-line to get cases completed quickly without second thought as to the defendant’s guilt or innocence.
Most citizens do not pay attention to this growing problem. Such issues are not important until it becomes a personal issue — say when a family or friend has been charged with a crime. Our country should care about these constitutional rights.
Even if states are being irresponsible with their budgets, public defense must be paid for. More funds must be allocated to these offices.
Additionally, novel approaches must be considered. Funding cannot rely solely upon traffic ticket revenues. A Texas county announced that it intended to experiment with a voucher program. The county will allow a defendant to choose an attorney of his or her choice, and provide a certain amount of the funds for representation. Other experiments should be done.
We do not expect constitutional principles to be disregarded when it is difficult to find the money. Our elected officials must make it a priority. You, as a citizen or resident, should make your voice heard. Let’s protect the constitutional right to an attorney.