Federal Public Defenders Hobbled by Sequestration
Federal spending cuts have left public defenders’ offices in worse straits than ever. Notoriously underfunded and understaffed, public defenders are now further stymied in their constitutional obligation to provide legal assistance to indigent defendants. NPR reports:
It’s not just defense lawyers who are howling. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer told the House Appropriations Committee at a hearing in March that he’s worried, too.
“At this moment, I would say the public defenders are below the level that would be minimum,” Breyer said. “And it does really seem to me that there is a serious problem in terms of crime, in terms of justice, in terms of adding costs to the system, if you can’t protect the defenders.”
According to attorneys interviewed by NPR, some have laid themselves off in order to spare new hires from losing their jobs, while others are considering taking unpaid time off so that they can afford to pay for expert witnesses.
The lack of federal funding seriously compromises attorney’s abilities to provide adequate defense and could ultimately contribute to wrongful convictions, especially among the poor.
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