Indefensible

Posted: January 5, 2011 in News
Tags: , , , ,

June Hardwick has been brainstorming with a black marker on poster-size papers covering her office wall. The Jackson, Mississippi, assistant public defender is reviewing the facts — and possible defense arguments — in a client’s statutory rape case. “No rape kit,” reads a bullet point. “No panties,” reads another. She has stacked and sorted her indicted cases on the floor beneath the papers; each folder represents a person too poor to hire a private attorney. On top of the last pile sits a note on which Hardwick has scrawled “need to visit.”

That Hardwick plans to see clients in jail shouldn’t be remarkable. But court-appointed lawyers who don’t meet — or even talk to — clients until the eve of trial are one symptom of a crumbling public-defense system that critics say fails clients, communities, taxpayers, and the Constitution. In the worst instances of substandard legal defense, the innocent lose liberty. More commonly, a poor person serves extra time when robust counsel might have secured a shorter sentence, probation, or stint in a drug-rehabilitation program.

Read the rest here.

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