Overload : The Problem Of Indigent Defense

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Overload: The Problem of Indigent Defense In 1963, the United States Supreme Court handed down a court decision that would forever shape the American criminal justice system: Gideon v. Wainwright, a case that guaranteed Americans legal counsel in criminal cases even if they could not afford it. 50 years have passed since the Gideon ruling was passed down and indigent defense has become a pillar of America’s legal system. Hundreds of thousands of cases are handled through public defenders and attorneys hired by the government to defend those who cannot afford an attorney themselves. However, in a world in which arrests and incarceration rates are climbing and public defense budgets are shrinking, public defenders at times have hundreds,…show more content…
While plea-bargaining remains an effective tool for public defenders, the combination of amassing cases and the lack of attention to them has been cause for concern for many in the criminal justice system. One can see that perhaps the best solution to the increasing incarceration rate as a result of criminalization is to begin reforming the criminal justice system to reduce incarceration rates. As Roger Fairfax argues in his article in the Yale Law Journal, “The growth in caseloads has been fueled, in part, by the proliferation of minor criminal offenses that could be classified as civil infractions” (Fairfax 2330). This statement directly supports the idea that reclassifying criminal offenses will reduce the amount of cases because it acknowledges that many of the cases causing overload are criminal offenses that could become civil ones. Therefore, reducing the amount of cases by reclassifying and decriminalizing infractions to smaller civil infractions will eliminate the need for indigent counsel in many cases, and thus will have palpable impact on the caseload felt by public defenders. The strain of the current criminal justice on public defenders and indigent defendants can be resolved by more than just simple reclassification of criminal offenses. Broader legislation on a Congressional level would have an enormous impact on the current indigent defense system, particularly if it addressed the specific definition of
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