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Louisiana's public defender system comes under fire

One of the principles on which our justice system stands is the idea that every person is innocent until proven guilty and has access to competent legal representation. That means when you're accused of a crime and don't have the money to hire an attorney, you'll be assigned a public defender. According to a new lawsuit, however, the poorest people in our state aren't getting the defense they deserve.

A group of attorneys and legal groups filed a lawsuit on behalf of the people in the Bayou State who are facing criminal charges that aren't punishable by death. The group estimates that number at 20,000 at any given time. They argue that these people are being denied their constitutional right to the effective assistance of counsel. According to the filing, many defendants barely saw their attorney or were represented by the same attorney as their co-defendants, which many would consider a conflict of interest.

Louisiana's public defense system relies almost entirely on traffic tickets and fees to stay afloat, a funding system that the lawsuit claims isn't enough. In fact, last year, there was a downturn in traffic tickets, which led many public defender offices to cut back on essential services. The legal group is calling on the Supreme Court of Louisiana to step in and create a monitoring body to fix the system.

The suit underlines the importance of good representation. After all, if your freedom hangs in the balance, you want an attorney who's going to be by your side through thick and thin.

Source: dailycomet.com, "Lawsuit claims La. public defense system inadequate," John Simerman, February 6, 2017

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