Public Defender Workloads Make “Right To Counsel” A Dead Letter

By on February 1, 2019

February 1, 2019

Studies in a number of states find that public defenders are overwhelmed and that they should be spending from between two and five times more hours on each case in order to make a reasonably effective defense. The problem of overworked public defenders has been raised before, but investigators are now armed with what a Louisiana study calls “professional consensus opinions regarding the appropriate amount of time an attorney should spend on certain case types.” By this standard, it was determined that one public defender in Louisiana would have needed to do the work of five full-time lawyers to serve all his clients. (Currently, he’s handling 194 felony cases. One of his colleagues was said to be handling 413,) For a variety of reasons, there has been virtually no pushback regarding this phenomenon, except in egregious cases where defendants after the fact try to argue they had an ineffective defense. “But the bar is high,” notes this New York Times article. “Some judges have ruled that taking illegal drugs, driving to court drunk or briefly falling asleep at the defense table — even during critical testimony — did not make a lawyer inadequate.”


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The New York Times

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