Ensure the Poor Receive Proper Counsel

Target: James C. Duff, Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts

Goal: Better fund public defenders to guarantee defendants their rights.

Public defenders’ lack of resources has denied defendants’ rights to proper counsel and caused states to use court fines and fees to finance their criminal justice system. Defendants are being charged for government services that should be free and can go to jail when they can’t pay these fees. The overworked and underfunded public defenders are not able to provide effective defense and it’s the poor who pay the price. Miranda rights promise those arrested that they will be provided with an attorney and the states should ensure that this promise is met.

Public defenders’ lack of resources has created a crisis-level problem in the criminal justice system. Public defenders are overloaded with cases, forcing some to deny new cases, which leaves defendants without representation. Other public defenders have been sued for failing their clients by not providing enough time on their cases. New Orleans’ overburdened public defenders only have an average of seven minutes to spend on each of their clients’ cases.

States have resorted to using court fees and fines to help pay for the budget of public defenders. If defendants fail to pay court fees they can go to jail, which goes against a 1983 Supreme Court ruling that stated that defendants can’t go to jail because they’re too poor to pay their fines. New technology created to circumvent jail time, such as electronic monitors, is only available to those who can afford to pay for them.

The criminal justice system is rigged for the rich. Public defenders can’t provide proper counsel to their clients because they are overworked and underpaid. The impoverished are facing jail time over menial charges, such as stealing a can of soda, because they’re unable to pay the court’s high fines. The courts need to stop depending on fines to pay their public defenders. Urge the states to step in and provide more funding to the public defense system so that everyone has their constitutional right to counsel.


Dear Mr. Duff,

The lack of resources for the public defense system has failed the low income and poor in the criminal justice system. Public defenders have been overburdened and unable to provide counsel to all defendants. A justice system should provide equal justice to all defendants, not just the ones who have money. Using court fees and fines to pay public defenders is not an adequate system and it’s unfair to both the public defenders and to the defendants.

States must prioritize their budgets to ensure public defenders aren’t under resourced. They need to stop allowing court fines and fees to be used to pay off the budgets of the public defense system. Extra fees and penalties for missed payments keep those who are already poor in a never-ending cycle of debt. Jailing those who are unable to pay fines allows the courts to imprison people for being poor.

I am urging you to guarantee equal protection of the law and the right to an attorney. Please provide more funding to the public defense system so it can provide adequate counsel to every one.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Penubag

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