A new year provides the opportunity to reflect on the past and set goals for the future. Each year, a central theme emerges in my New Year’s resolution: be present. Show up; assume the best of each other; focus on where you are; remember the dignity of every person.
Public defenders are heroes. That message rang loud and clear throughout the third annual Smart on Crime Innovations Conference. From opening remarks by John Jay College of Criminal Justice President Karol Mason who explicitly highlighted defenders as criminal justice reform leaders to the plenary session on day two when Mark Holden and Justice Programs Office Director Kim Ball had a passionate conversation about why the Sixth Amendment matters.
Last week, in partnership with the National Association for Court Management and supported by the State Justice Institute, the Justice Programs Office, Right to Counsel team held a meeting with judges and court administrators on how to enhance caseflow management to ensure effective assistance of counsel. I was excited to convene this passionate group of court leaders and hear what they had to say on the topics of caseflow management and effective assistance of counsel, yet was unsure how the conversation would go. I wasn’t completely convinced that enough people would find enough to talk about and stay engaged in over the two days, or if everyone would buy into this exploration of the tension between processing cases quickly while simultaneously allowing for and encouraging effective assistance of counsel. Well, let me tell you—I was proved wrong—the sustained energy, thoughtfulness, and critical thinking that manifested during the meeting and extended into an evening reception was beyond my highest expectations.
March 18th marked the 56th anniversary of the landmark US Supreme Court case Gideon v. Wainwright and National Public Defense Day. As a former investigator for the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia, current project director of the Right to Counsel National Campaign, justice reform advocate, and American citizen, I am proud to celebrate the public defense community and the clients – which could be any of us – they represent. Continue reading “In Defense of Public Defense”
This past Fall, The Marshall Project launched, “What’s the Story?”, a monthly speaker series that highlights how narratives and media impact criminal justice policies and practices. The latest event on January 23, 2019 featured Tayari Jones, Piper Kerman, and David Simon. All three spoke powerfully about how broadcast and print media can shape perceptions and drive the narrative around criminal justice.
April is “Second Chance Month,” and JPO is proud to partner with Prison Fellowship and other organizations to celebrate it. In this blog post, we explore the role public defense providers play in helping their clients achieve second chances.
When I first joined the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia (PDS) as an investigator, my understanding of the roles of defense attorneys and investigators was limited and confined by the courtroom; I thought that defense attorneys and investigators worked on behalf of their clients during the pre-trial phase, trial, and that their work concluded at case disposition. At the conclusion of one case, attention turned to the next client, and the cycle began again. It was only after I began my journey at PDS that I learned about the powerful impact defense attorneys play after case disposition and in reentry. Continue reading “Defense Doesn’t End at Disposition”
Today, March 18, 2018, is the 55th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court case Gideon v. Wainwright. The struggle of Clarence Earl Gideon to obtain defense counsel, and his fight to affirm his right to counsel regardless of means, cemented the Sixth Amendment right that if a person cannot afford a lawyer, one will be provided. Public defense access has improved since the Gideon decision, but the public defense system struggles from chronic underfunding, inconsistent standards for public defense eligibility and quality depending on the state, and a lack of support for training and resources for public defenders.
If you were arrested and charged with a crime, would you know what to do? If you were brought into a courtroom in handcuffs, told to stand straight, look up at a judge, and listen to a prosecutor dressed in a suit make statements about your character and accusing you of a crime, would you know how to react? What if you had someone next to you, who was familiar with the process and the court actors, telling you it was okay and that s/he was there to support and advocate for you, would that change how you felt? That is the power of Gideon.