Investing in Equal Access to Quality Public Defense

Stacked office filesLast month, California congresswoman and Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris introduced the Ensuring Quality Access to Legal Defense (EQUAL Defense) Act. If passed, the bill would create a $250 million grant program aiming to establish workload limits for public defenders and pay parity between public defenders and prosecutors. The bill would also authorize $5 million to provide training to public defenders.

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In Defense of Public Defense

Gideon Petition for Certiorari
Gideon’s Petition

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”

In Re Gault – Progress or Regression

“The Road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” – Unknown

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As I walked into my first (and only!) law class in grad school, there was a quote written on the whiteboard. Our professor looked at us and asked, “How does this apply to our case today?” The case in question was “In re Gault,” the landmark US Supreme Court case which established the right to counsel for juveniles in delinquency cases in 1967. That may have been my only law class, but I continue to grapple with the issues raised by this case through my work training and providing technical assistance to juvenile drug treatment courts. In the 51 years since Gault, we’ve come a long way to ensure justice for youth, but there are still steps we need to take, especially when it comes to the right to counsel.

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Working in Criminal Justice as an International Affairs Student: Understanding the Challenges at Home

Photo of CameronI’ve been working for a little over a year as a student associate at the Justice Programs Office (JPO). Most of my time is taken up by being graduate student at American University’s School of International Service but being a student associate at JPO has been a very rewarding part-time job. As an international affairs student, the daily legal issues I study are very different from those most students who focus on domestic government study. During our studies, we international affairs students observe whether a country adheres to the rule of law or we compare the philosophical underpinnings that countries use in designing legal or governmental systems.   Rarely do we take a deep look at the American legal system or the American criminal justice system. My time here at JPO has built on my personal thoughts about the American criminal justice system and brought them into sharper focus.

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“… You have the right to an attorney…”

Banner and gavel

 

My colleagues here at the Justice Programs Office (JPO) will cringe when they see this, but I sometimes hear clips from the old TV show “Law & Order” when we talk about the right to counsel. Bear with me, please, but for a long time I thought Miranda warnings and the right to counsel were synonymous. And though I now know that not to be true, when we have these conversations I still can’t help but hear the echo of so many detectives in so many episodes saying, “You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.” Law & Order was my grandmother’s favorite show—she loved Lennie Briscoe—and I spent a lot of time watching it with her as a teenager. One of the consequences of hearing law enforcement officers on TV tell every person they arrest that they have the right to an attorney and that one will be provided if need be is that I—and, I suspect, many others—think that’s how the American justice system works. Every person accused of a crime has access to defense counsel.

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Healing While Defending Right to Counsel

Preeti Menon R2C sign

For those who work in the treatment court field, how often is a public defender part of your drug treatment court team? If your answer is “sometimes,” “not often,” or “not at all,” please continue to read. If your answer is “always,” kudos to you; please share this blog post and your stories with us.

Drug treatment courts use a specialized model for people facing criminal drug charges who live with serious substance use and mental health disorders. Drug court teams, which comprise members of the judiciary, prosecution, defense bar, probation, law enforcement, mental health, social services, and treatment communities, work together to help addicted offenders get into long-term recovery. As part of the drug treatment court team, public defenders participate in the team meetings and often provides input in his/her client’s treatment plan.

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Defense Doesn’t End at Disposition

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”