From the Idaho Statesman tonight:
"Four years ago, a report from the National Legal Aid and Defender Association found that Idaho is violating its Sixth Amendment obligations to defendants. Public defenders across the state were being given too many cases, and some defendants weren’t meeting their attorneys until they were in the courtroom. The report also said that defendants sometimes felt pressured to accept a plea agreement rather than go to trial."
The Idaho Statesman is reporting that the legislative committee charged with making changes in our state’s method of providing public defender services will not change – leaving the counties responsible for ensuring that indigent defendants have effective representation when they face criminal charges. The article indicates that the obligation for providing those services will remain with the state, but decision-making on how those services will remain local.
You know – like "Buy Local."
Here’s the thing – Public Defenders remain some of the most committed lawyers on the face of the earth – but they do so at a price. They are underpaid – making far less than the lawyers for the state, and overworked – handling more cases than time permits for adequate preparation.
Only an increase in funding would allow for an even playing field. Regardless who makes the local call, the problem is simple. The legislature passes bills increasing punishments and adding to the "list" of crimes because it is easy to be "tough on crime." But they do not provide additional funds to the folks who bear the burden of trying to defend the accused. Why do we need, for example, a specialized crime for battery on an ER doc/nurse/PA? A battery on any person – doctor, nurse, PA, janitor, realtor or police officer isl intolerable. I say this knowing that tonight I will go home to my wife, a dedicated RN with thirty years of service. Still, to highlight one group for special treatment simply permits an easy magnification from a misdemeanor to a felony charge – and makes the importance of representation even greater.
Criminal enforcement costs money – and that includes the cost of public defender services. Add to the list of crimes or add to the potential punishment and you add to the costs. Maybe a better solution exists to these problems. Maybe we shouldn’t put so many people in jail for so long. Maybe a DUI sentence in Ada County should not be any higher than a DUI sentence in Canyon County.
But now I am rambling – the point here is simple – our Public Defenders need adequate funds to do their job. And the State legislature needs to buck up. You want the locals to decide how to provide Defender services? OK – then pay up. Make sure the counties have sufficient money to meet the requirement that any person charged with a crime gets the effective assistance of counsel. That includes indigent defendants.