Steven Bright on indigent defense – and we DO care about access to justice – or don’t we?

Steven Bright on the failure of the public defender system

Steven Bright makes clear that the explosive growth in the number of incarcerated Americans is the result of over worked public defenders with impossible case loads, under funded courts, and innocent people behind bars.

1 in 100 United States Adults are behind bars.  1 in 36 Hispanic adults are behind bars.  1 in 15 black men are behind bars.  You don’t have to take my word for it.   According to Steven Bright this awful social blight results from a failure to follow the mandate of the 6th Amendment and Gideon v. Wainwright.

Now, the goal was not window dressing.  By window dressing, I mean the appearance of an attorney, but without the resources in terms of time and support staff to do the job.  A defense attorney has to meet with and interview the client, investigate sometimes using a private investigator, hunt down witnesses and evidence.  Unlike prosecutors, there is not an army of police and detectives at the ready.

At one time, this state was known for having zealous defense by experienced private attorneys appointed to defend individuals, who could say know when their caseloads got too high, as could public defenders.  Sadly, Governor Deval Patrick is intent on dismantling this system, and requiring 200 or more cases per public defender.

Broken lives,  Broken dreams – and a cost of $43,000.00 per incarcerated adult per year to the taxpayer, with limited re-entry and far too many of these individuals were pled out – and under our Governor’s plan, this will only get worse.

The measure of a democracy is, in part, its commitment to the rule of law.  This must include a commitment to “innocent until proven guilty.”  For “innocent until proven guilty” to be a reality,  funding for the judicial branch must be realistic and adequate, and so much funding for indigent defense.


Equating indigent defense to what prosecutors do is, in fact, dead wrong.  Listen to Steven Bright a second time.  Maybe Deval Patrick will listen.  Maybe Secretary of Administration and Finance Gonzalez will listen to Steven Bright.  They sure have not listened to Massachususetts Lawyers Weekly, the Massachusetts Bar Association (MBA) or me.

2 20 12 MLW Editorial Opposing Govs plan

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Tue 28 Mar 6:06 AM