The poor deserve strong legal defense

Saturday, 21 October 2017, 06:17:32 AM. The Sixth Amendment requires that the assistance of counsel be provided to individuals charged in criminal prosecutions
On my last visit to Rikers Island Correctional Facility, I hugged my 18-year-old client goodbye. I worked with him for more than a year, representing him on a robbery case. My client was homeless, and before Rikers he was living in a shelter with his mother, a recovering drug addict. He was trying to finish high school and find a job all while frequently having to wonder where his next meal would come from. This case, and upwards of 75 others at any given time, made up my caseload as a public defender in New York City. I served mostly black and Hispanic, lower-income individuals charged with crimes who could not afford an attorney. My office was well resourced with experienced and dedicated supervisors. I had supportive colleagues and a team of office administrators, social workers and investigators with the same goal of effectively representing our clients. I spent the previous five years doing this work, and I was leaving for a role in a new agency in my home state, the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission. While I was passionate about my work and enjoyed living in New York, I felt an increasingly more acute pull to Michigan, where I spent the first 17 years of my life. About two years ago I’d begun aggressively researching the public defender system in Michigan. I could not believe what I found: severely under resourced public defenders, often one or two for an entire county, unfathomably high case loads, and nominal compensation for extremely difficult work. I met with...Read more
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