“You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided to you.”
We have all heard the Miranda rights promise more times than we can count, either when catching a case or on TV where cop shows dominate. They always arrest their man and promise a fair trial.
The police arrested Shondel Church for felony theft in 2016. They read his Miranda rights and his Missouri public defender said his case was winnable. All he had to do was wait six months in county jail for his defender to prepare his case. After three months in jail, without a job and away from his family, he took a plea deal, reports Reason Magazine.
Arguing that Missouri’s public defenders are so inadequate as to violate poor residents’ constitutional rights, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal class action lawsuit in March, according to Reason.
The reality of the criminal justice system rarely matches the intent of the Supreme Court’s 1963 Gideon v. Wainwright decision or the Constitution’s promise of a fair trial wherein the Sixth Amendment guarantees a right to effective legal counsel.
This chronic under-funding of public defender services is nationwide. Colorado has 370 attorneys handling more than 80,000 cases a year. A 2014 study by the American Bar Association (ABA) found that 97 percent of the Missouri public defenders failed to meet the ABA’s recommended minimum hours to effectively represent their clients.
According to Reason, 85 percent of criminal defendants in Louisiana qualified for a public defender in 2016. Due to a lack of resources, 33 of the state’s 42 public defender offices began turning away cases.
“It’s not a coincidence that Louisiana also has the highest incarceration level in the country and the second-highest wrongful conviction rate, according to the National Registry of Exonerations,” concluded Reason.
Unlike a TV drama, if your choice is between waiting in jail or trusting a chronically over-committed court-appointed attorney to defend you, winning is not an option.