Death Penalty Defenders: Underfunded, Overworked
In Louisiana a Public Defenders shortage is preventing the state from adequately representing indigent defendants facing the death penalty. It is also causing massive delays in the already lengthy trial process.
Mike Mitchell, chief public defender for East Baton Rouge, says: “A lot of attorneys steer away from it…Historically it’s been tough work for very little pay.”
As a result, the Capital Defense Project of Southeast Louisiana currently has 11 attorneys handling 25 cases. This is far from the “dream team” of lawyers that a wealthy defendant might be able to afford. Steve Bright, of the Southern Center for Human Rights, says, “In this country, you are better off being rich and guilty than poor and innocent.”
The inherent complexity of capital punishment cases also means that trials are costly and can last for decades. Explains Mitchell, “What we need to operate is about $10 million a year, to do it properly, to meet our ethical standards of performance,” but this would require a $4.7 million budget increase. Says criminal defense lawyer John Di Giulio, “It’s going to hit the wall.”
And defendants are not the only ones who will suffer from the shortage. When the court process is delayed, the victim’s family members are forced to relive their painful loss in court for even longer, obstructing their ability to heal.
Find out more what happens when death penalty defendants can’t afford private lawyers on EJUSA’s indigent defense page. Read more about the Louisiana public defender’s shortage in this article in the Advocate.