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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Reflecting on Managing Caseflow While Ensuring Effective Counsel

Team of judges and court administrators at the meeting.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.

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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”

Step-by-Step – What more is needed in criminal justice reform

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Last week SPA co-sponsored Leadership in Action: Criminal Justice Reform, an event hosted by The Hill. I participated in the event, representing SPA, and gave remarks highlighting the overwhelming bipartisan support we saw last year when Congress passed the First Step Act. I followed the conversation when Congress was working on criminal justice reform, and while I’m glad all the talk on the Hill resulted in the passage of new legislations, I hope that the First Step Act is just that, a first step.

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“What’s the Story?” Reflection: The Marshall Project Monthly Speakers Series and the Power of Media

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.

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The Right to Counsel at the Police Precinct: The West Bank Paving the Way

When you think of the West Bank, your first thought is likely not the right to counsel. Some people are surprised to hear that Palestine has a self-sufficient legal system at all, let alone a constitutionally-mandated right to an attorney for all criminally accused. Ensuring access to legal representation is critical to protecting due process, human rights, and justice, especially in historically tumultuous places like the West Bank. Institutionalizing constitutional protections as the Palestinian legal system develops and changes will ensure that best practices are embedded into its very foundation.

People at meeting
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

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“… You have the right to an attorney…”

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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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