Many of the 245 people exonerated through DNA testing were represented at their original trial by public defenders or appointed attorneys who were underfunded, overburdened, in over their heads, or all of the above.
And the threat of wrongful convictions caused by bad lawyering isn’t an issue of the past.
A new report
from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics finds public defense offices around the country stuggling to stay above water – even before the recession took hold in 2008. Today, states and counties are facing budget cuts that could compromise the quality of representation and contribute to more wrongful convictions.
An editorial in the Detroit Free Press today
calls of the Michigan Legislature to address the state’s inadequate indigent defense system, which is 44th in the country in spending, through a package of bills introduced last month. The paper writes:
An effective public defense system will save money by reducing wrongful-conviction lawsuits, keeping innocent people out of prison and making sure defendants who can't afford counsel don't get unjustifiably long sentences.
…In calling attention to Michigan's abysmal public defense system, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder recently cited the wrongful conviction of Eddie Joe Lloyd, who served 17 years in prison for a murder and rape he didn't commit. Lloyd's appointed attorneys failed to investigate, or even cross-examine police about, Lloyd's false confession. As Holder pointed out, Lloyd's imprisonment and appeals cost Michigan nearly $1 million, not including the $4-million civil judgment Lloyd later won for his wrongful conviction.
Legislators ought to remember cases like Lloyd's as they consider overdue bills to fix Michigan's morally indefensible and economically shortsighted system for public defense.
Other states are facing similar burdens. Over the weekend, a Kentucky county learned that it must
cut 30 percent of its budget
for next year and an Indiana county announced that it was
cutting several attorney and support staff positions