Daily Archives: September 3, 2008

Gideon’s turning in his grave

From the very same state that gave us Gideon v. Wainwright comes the news that their public defender system is in dire straits.

A judge in Miami ruled today that the public defender system is so overburdened and crushed by caseload that they can stop accepting some cases until the situation improves.

Circuit Judge Stanford Blake found that Public Defender Bennett Brummer’s office has absorbed 12.6 percent in budget cuts over the last two years, while its criminal caseload has rocketed by 29 percent since 2004.

“The evidence shows that the number of active cases is so high that the assistant public defenders are, at best, providing minimal competent representation to the accused,” Blake wrote.

“While the court is concerned that there not be chaos in the criminal justice system, the court must also serve as the protector of due process and meaningful representation of the accused,” the judge added.

Starting mid-September, around 2000 cases a month will have to be shipped out to private counsel, because public defenders are unable to handle them.

The state (and state’s attorneys) of course hates being told what to do:

“This is a political matter that should have stayed in the political system,” Rundle said. “No one should create a constitutional crisis that jeopardizes the integrity of our criminal justice system.”

Maybe the funding of public defender systems is a political matter, but the representation of over 2000 defendants a month is certainly not. It is a legal and constitutional issue and every defendant should receive competent representation. If the political system that this prosecutor seems so fond of actually contributes to the situation that has resulted, then why should fixing this problem be left up to them? It’s like saying sentencing should be left up to defendants.

There was nowhere else for the public defenders to turn. The Court stepped in and did what it had to and what it should have.

Scoplaw, one of those hard-working public defenders in Miami, weighs in.