Overburdened defense lawyers = no defense.
If an innocent, poor defendant is prosecuted, the one thing that can save her is a public defender armed with evidence to show the jury. But when public defenders don’t have the time, training or resources to investigate and get that evidence, innocent people go to prison.
The 2002 report of the Ryan Commission in Illinois (that investigated the error rate and wrongful conviction in death penalty cases) made the following recommendation:
The most important thing we can do to prevent injustice is provide full and robust defense funding.
The vast majority of defendants in state criminal courts are poor and cannot hire a lawyer. Public defenders are appointed. Louisiana’s system of indigent defense funding has always been, and remains, unsustainable and inadequate.
Public defenders are the actors in the criminal justice system with no control over how many people are arrested or prosecuted. They are reactive. With a smaller criminal justice system, less money would be needed to ensure that public defenders have adequate resources to fully investigate cases and prevent wrongful convictions. However, in the current system of mass imprisonment, preventing injustice means a massive investment of reliable, adequate, sustained funding to public defender offices that is on a par with what prosecutors receive.
IPNO believes that a fully resource, well-trained attorney is not a luxury in a criminal case but a necessity.
IPNO advocates for rigorously enforced, ethical and constitutional standards of professional practice and conduct. Inexperienced defenders should not be responsible for serious felony cases.
IPNO advocates for reliable, steady, adequate funding for public defense on equity with prosecution and law enforcement.