- Thursday, 13 June 2013
Yesterday, the district attorney handed down another sweeping indictment, this time 20 co-defendants. This comes on the heels of the previous 15 co-defendant indictment a month ago. Court proceedings in that case are at a standstill as many of those defendants have yet to receive representation.
The Orleans Public Defenders Office simply doesn't have the adequate resources after sustaining millions of dollars in cuts over the past two years. As OPD previously warned, should all 20 of the new defendants qualify for (and request) a public defender, many may not have attorneys when proceedings begin unless they have money for private counsel. The New Orleans criminal justice system will be hard-pressed to move these cases toward resolution – if they move at all.
The unprecedented number of group prosecutions is consistent with the Mayor's new Group Violence Reduction Strategy (GVRS). While the initiative is a commendable effort to address the city's violence, it stresses an already strained public defense office and criminal justice system. Additionally, failing to include and consult OPD in developing or implementing the GVRS threatens to weaken or ruin the impact of the efforts.
OPD alerted all criminal justice stakeholders earlier this year that we were once again short of necessary funding to provide constitutionally-mandated legal defense for indigent defendants. The 33 percent appropriation cut from the New Orleans city budget - coupled with an otherwise unreliable, unstable and inadequate funding system for public defense – has hindered our ability to keep up with the growing and complex demands of our criminal justice system.
See our Press Release
- Tuesday, 21 May 2013
Thoughts from Chief Defender Derwyn Bunton
"In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial ... and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense," the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Recently the United States Supreme Court dismissed the case of Louisiana v. Boyer by a vote of 5-4. The case involved one of the most basic rights of due process – the above's right to a speedy trial and the effective assistance of counsel. At issue in Boyer was whether a state's failure to fund his counsel for five years should be weighed against the state for speedy trial purposes.
Fifty years after the landmark Gideon v. Wainwright ruling, the goal of equal justice under the law – embodied in the right to counsel – remains elusive at best. The Sixth Amendment right to counsel is jeopardized by a United States criminal justice system so lacking in funding for public defense that lawyers in public defender offices often qualify for public benefits. Ours is a system where public defenders (working a second job) encounter their clients while delivering pizza to them.
While the state of public defense funding is troubling in New Orleans, it is not a problem unique to New Orleans. Public defender offices across the state and country face increasing budget shortfalls and insufficient resources. Additionally, public defender caseloads regularly exceed professional and national standards for ethical representation. Neglecting the importance of adequately funded public defenders threatens the credibility and reliability of our criminal justice system, evidenced by 873 known exonerations between 1989 and 2012.
U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said last year across the country, "public defender offices ... are underfunded and understaffed. Too often, when legal representation is available to the poor, it's rendered less effective by insufficient resources, overwhelming caseloads and inadequate oversight."