Vincent M. Southerland, Senior Counsel in LDF’s Criminal Justice Project, weighed in on the devastating effects of sequestration, which has resulted in a $51 million shortfall for federal defender programs this fiscal year. Because of sequestration, public defenders have been layed-off in staggering numbers. Federal public defenders, who were already working with limited resources and high caseloads, are now forced to do even more with even less: buy their own office supplies, take on lighter case loads; forgo interpreters, investigators, and critical support staff.
The cuts take the hardest toll on indigent clients, the bulk of whom are African American and other people of color, and who must face criminal charges with legal representation undermined by financial strain. In many instances, clients are forced to spend more time in prison just waiting for their day in court. For a criminal justice system that already favors the guilty and wealthy over the poor and innocent, sequestration of defender services is unconscionable.
“This is a constitutional crisis of immense measure. One of the most sacred promises of our constitution is that if you’re accused of a crime and you can’t afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you. These budget cuts undermine our fundamental promise — something that’s a bedrock of our democracy and that’s enshrined in constitutional law.”
“All of us are entitled to constitutional defense — a fair and equal defense — and money should not determine the type of justice that you’re entitled to.”
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