Attorney General Eric Holder has
written a scathing op-ed in The Washington Post, arguing that “draconian” budget cuts have made it impossible for federal public defenders to do a decent job for poor clients.
In the landmark case Gideon v. Wainwright, the Supreme Court ruled that every defendant has a right to a lawyer paid for by the government. But federal budget cuts — known as sequestration — have forced public defenders’ offices to lay off some lawyers and force other lawyers to take unpaid days off.
Southern Ohio’s top public defender laid himself off so he didn’t have to cut other lawyers, Holder points out. “This shameful state of affairs is unworthy of our great nation,” Holder writes.
America’s attorney general is far from the first person to decry the impact of budget cuts on public defenders offices. Last month, the Associated Press reported that federal public defenders offices were sounding alarms after they’d been told to cut spending by 14% on top of a 9% spending cut they already had to make this year.
These cuts are forcing public defenders to ask for trial delays, meaning clients often have to spend more time in jail and don’t get the speedy trial guaranteed by the Constitution. Defenders also have to scrimp on the amount of money they spend on case investigators and expert witnesses, the AP pointed out.
The upshot is that poor defendants don’t get great legal representation.
These cuts are even more egregious when you consider that the offices prosecuting these defendants haven’t had their budgets cut, Joe Davidson has written in The Washington Post.
“Yes, of course, it is unfair that we are laying off and furloughing while the U.S. attorney’s offices are not,” David Patton, a federal defender in New York, told Davidson. “The funding deck is stacked against us in the best of times.
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