Indigent Defense

I have had an opportunity of late to watch our legislature draft laws and debate them on the floor of the capitol in an effort to reform our criminal justice system.  Although what the majority is doing seems criminal enough, their efforts do nothing more than eliminate justice from the system entirely.  Since the Rehnquisition began in the early 1980’s, our most fundamental rights, those guaranteed by the United States and Georgia Constitutions, have been disappearing faster than a pack of cigarettes at an A.A. meeting.  Politicians and pundits have divided these United States into two teams, Liberals and Conservatives and have pitted us against ourselves in struggles over privacy, due process, and, at the dawn of the 21st century, who is worthy of a skilled lawyer at the trial of their criminal case.  The problem is that conservatives forget that the right to counsel, which they have all but legislated away, belongs to every citizen not just those who can afford one when they have been charged with a crime.  Although I must say, it has been my experience that the most liberal people in the justice system are conservatives who have just been arrested.


This Nations indigent defense system is in shambles.  The threat to justice everywhere warned against by Dr. King more than 40 years ago, is being orchestrated by the injustice engaged in by legislators across each of these United States.  They are intentionally and maliciously withholding monies from the indigent and capital defender programs in their States, leaving only enough resources for a small, courageous, but ill-equipped and overwhelmed group of lawyers who are fighting valiantly to defend the rights due every citizen; but which are deprived the underprivileged. 


This Country was outraged when our troops were found to be under funded in Iraq and Afghanistan without flak jackets, properly armored vehicles or a coherent plan to maintain their security.  In response to the flag draped coffins coming home with the remains of those heroes, also charged with defending the Constitution, the citizenry shouted out bipartisanly, making sure that every protection was afforded them so that no patriot was lost defending our rights because fundamental protections were deprived them.   The same outrage should be echoing across this Country now because of the calculated under funding of indigent and capital defense in our justice system. Battle weary Public Defenders struggle diligently every day with no money for investigators or experts to help prepare the hundreds of cases each lawyer is forced to handle at any given time throughout the year.  The proof of this cancer on our justice system being the incredible success of the Innocence Projects across the country who are routinely, with DNA evidence, freeing wrongfully convicted citizens from draconian sentences and death row after having served decades behind bars. 


The fact that this Nation continues to support State and Federal legislators who emasculate the Sixth Amendment right to counsel demonstrates the collective slope of our political cranial ridge. Ninety Million voters step out of Darwin’s waiting room each week to participate in the election of the next American Idol, but refuse to cast a ballot against a political system willing to appoint judges to the United States Supreme Court who have authorized the execution of American citizens in the face of actual innocence, because they have procedurally defaulted in the appellate process.  To those rhinestones on the jumpsuit of mediocrity it is time we said enough, and began to defend every citizen’s right to the protections that built this Country, not just those who can afford them. 


It’s kind of like guaranteeing the indigent Tom Robinson an effective defense against the false allegations of Bob and Maella Ewell.  Hate fear and ignorance resulted in his conviction and death.  But at least in that case, the willingness to provide a defense protected his rights, the ideals of the system and made a difference by causing a community to take a second look at itself.

Thanks Atticus.


L. David Wolfe,

Criminal Defense Lawyer