The nation's indigent defense system is woefully inadequate and calls out for a strong federal response, writes Professor Cara H. Drinan in an Issue Brief released today by ACS. Drinan's Issue Brief, available here, proposes federal legislation to help overcome a "national crisis in indigent defense services." At the moment, Drinan asserts, many states are far from meeting their obligations under the Constitution's Sixth Amendment.
During the 2010 ACS National Convention, Stephen B. Bright, president and senior counsel for the Southern Center for Human Rights, participated in a panel discussion that focused on increasing a federal role in improving indigent defense. Following the discussion, Bright talked with ACSblog about indigent defense services nationwide, calling the situation extremely lopsided in the favor of prosecutors. He compared the situation to "literally like the New York Yankees," playing a little-league softball team. "In many parts of the country we don't have a system," Bright said. In many states, there are no public defenders offices and instead judges appoint lawyers, often overworked, to represent poor defendants. In those cases, Bright continued, the lawyers loyalty is often to the judges who appoint them and not to defendants.
Bright said greater independence, more structure and resources are needed to turn the situation around. Bright's interview is below. Video of the panel discussion, "The Federal Role in Improving Indigent Criminal Defense," is available here.