200+ exonerations are a “tipping point” in call for better public defense


In a column in the December issue of the libertarian magazine Reason, senior editor Radley Balko writes that we need to look no further than the 208 wrongful convictions  overturned by DNA testing to see that the American public defense system is woefully lacking. While 80 percent of defendants charged with felonies in state court get a public defender, a 1999 Justice Department study found that 97 percent of law enforcement resources in the country’s 100 largest counties goes to police, courts and prosecutors – leaving just 3 percent for public defense. Only about 7 percent of felonies go to trial – the rest end in plea bargains. Eleven of the 208 exonerees pled guilty to crimes they didn’t commit, and other wrongful convictions were

clearly caused by bad lawyering


If we’re serious about giving everyone a fair crack at justice, indigent defendants need access to the same sorts of resources prosecutors have, including their own independent experts and investigators. If we’re going to generously fund the government’s efforts to imprison people, we need to ensure that everyone the government pursues is adequately defended and protected from prosecutorial overreach. The ongoing stream of exonerations in felony cases suggests we’re a long way from that goal.

Read the full column here

. (Reason, December 2007)

And the criminal justice blog Grits for Breakfast says this morning that there must be a crisis if the libertarian Reason is calling for an improvement in public defense.

When even Reason magazine thinks government is underspending on one of its functions, it’s hard not to think we might have reached a tipping point in regards to changing public perception in the wake of 200+ DNA exonerations.

Read the full blog post

. (Grits for Breakfast, 11/30/07)

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