Public Defenders and Justice

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The 1963 U.S. Supreme Court decision Gideon v. Wainwright states that all defendants facing significant jail time have the constitutional right to a free attorney if they cannot afford their own. Fifty years later, 80 percent of criminal defendants are served by public defenders. Karen Houppert chronicles the stories of people in all parts of the country who have relied on public defenders in Chasing Gideon: The Elusive Quest for Poor People’s Justice.


Karen Houppert

Comments [13]

juvenile delinquent

The Jobs Crisis at Our Best Law Schools Is Much, Much Worse Than You Think

Apr. 11 2013 03:25 PM

ptw, what is your reasoning for taking a job that requires "50 times the amount of cases that private attorneys have," at the same or most likely far less pay than they receive?

Are your credentials, "first tier law school in New York, and graduated in the top 10% of my class," representative of other public defenders?

"But believe me, a public defender with 1 year experience, knows more law than a lawyer out on his own for 5 years."
This claim brings into question the legitimacy of your professed experience.

"We are awesome lawyers"
The disturbing statistics of the lives wrecked, which have been repeatedly carried out and widely documented indicate the opposite in practice.

Apr. 09 2013 05:35 PM
Ptw from Buffalo, NY

I went to a first tier law school in New York, and graduated in the top 10% of my class. I also scored very high on the mbe, and am admitted in the State of New York. I am not an idiot, and I do not have trouble "reasoning". I am a public defender, and am very happy with my job. We work very hard, and care deeply about our clients rights and seeing justice carried out.
Whoever left that comment about third tier law schools etc etc, is completely ignorant, and clearly does not practice criminal law.
We are awesome lawyers, and most lawyers in the defense bar would tell you same.

Public defenders have 50 times the amount of cases that private attorneys have. Thus, we have less time on our hands. That's it. But believe me, a public defender with 1 year experience, knows more law than a lawyer out on his own for 5 years.
Just wanted to clear the air.

Apr. 03 2013 10:17 PM
Tony from Canarsie

Jf from A paralell universe utopia -- FYI computers also have spell check.

Mar. 28 2013 12:38 PM

Don't children in the legal system get a court appointed advocate? If a 12 year old has sexual behavior, than I believe that is cause for an ACS investigation of the home. Children who act out sexually are often victims of abuse..

Mar. 28 2013 12:34 PM
Jf from A paralell universe utopia

There is no finite amount of money! Print more! Make inflation illegal.we dont need lawyers we need the legal system to be translated into english one and for all time. A comluter program could come up with a list of precidents.

Mar. 28 2013 12:32 PM
Mark from Bronx

The guest needs to speak about trial judges that make in chambers demands of the prosecutor and the public defender to come to a plea bargain. This is coming from a former judicial law clerk, who has witnessed this circumstance on more than one occasion.

Mar. 28 2013 12:30 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Isn't there a requirement that the defandant's counsel be competent?

Mar. 28 2013 12:28 PM
Charles from Downtown

What affect has the privatization of the prison system had?

Mar. 28 2013 12:24 PM
Leslie Posnock from New Jersey

I am a criminal defense attorney who has been in private practice for the past 25 years. Prior to that, I served as a public defender in Philadelphia and New Jersey. I, like most of my colleagues, chose to be public defenders out of a sense of passion for the work and a desire to see justice done. The finest lawyers I have ever known were public defenders. If you have any question about this, look at the statistics in Philadelphia, where murder defendants represented by the Defender Association obtain significantly better results compared to those represented by privately appointed counsel.

Mar. 28 2013 12:22 PM
Tony from Canarsie

ym --- From the Houston Chronicle's web site:

"In its most recent Public Sector and Public Interest Attorney Salary Survey, the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) examined public defenders' salaries as of 2010. According to the survey, an entry level public defender earned a median salary of $47,500, while a public defender with five years' experience earned a median salary of $60,280 and one with 11 to 15 years' experience earned a median salary of $76,160. The salaries had increased steadily since 2004, according to the biennial survey. For instance, a public defender with five years' experience earned a median $50,000 in 2004; $54,670 in 2006; and $60,000 in 2008."

Mar. 28 2013 12:12 PM

Please give the pay scales for public defenders.

Mar. 28 2013 11:53 AM

Public defenders view their role as ushers in a paper pushing process.
The low pay of judgeships, who are defenders of justice, attracts similarly minded people.

The public defender program is fed by the surplus of lawyers, who are unable to get jobs with firms because they went to third tier schools, at best, or otherwise support themselves in private practice.

The self-destructive choice of attending a third tier school is indicative of their reasoning skills and a destructive approach to others, not to mention their clients.

Because they have no other way to make a living but as a public defender, they will not do anything which may cross the judge's goal of expeditiously getting through their docket, or an opposing attorney in hopes of getting a job referral.

Mar. 28 2013 11:49 AM

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