Attorney Arthur Jones is featured in a New York Times multimedia showcase of his life as a public defender. For $40,000 a year, you get a converted closet for an office, mad trial experience (500 cases annually), and a chance to fight for poor people of color. Says Jones, “We don’t know our cases…we have to go off the fly…the potential for mistakes is enormous.” Yet another reason to Just Say No! Recently, Jones opted out of his government job with the hope of being able to feed his kids as a private defense attorney. Those that stay can now refuse to represent certain of the accused.
According to the Times, it’s grim times for PDs and those they defend:
In September, a Florida judge ruled that the public defenders’ office in Miami-Dade County could refuse to represent many of those arrested on lesser felony charges so its lawyers could provide a better defense for other clients. Over the last three years, the average number of felony cases handled by each lawyer in a year has climbed to close to 500, from 367, officials said, and caseloads for lawyers assigned to misdemeanor cases have risen to 2,225, from 1,380.
The Times mentions attorney jokes about “McJustice” and the plea bargain “assembly line” before adding:
The most immediate impact of the rushed justice, Mr. Lefstein and Mr. Carroll said, is that innocent defendants may feel pressure to plead guilty or may be wrongfully convicted — which means the real offenders would be left untouched. Appeals claiming inadequate defense are very difficult to win, experts say.
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