Legal Advocates Want Overhaul of Public Defender System

NPR; October 3, 2013

Prominent members of the legal community are pressuring the Obama administration to do more to ensure that poor criminal defendants have access to a lawyer, a situation that Attorney General Eric Holder has already likened to a national crisis.

Calls to create a bipartisan White House commission began earlier this year, with the 50th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court case Gideon v. Wainwright that first insured a public defender for persons accused of non-capital offenses. This week, advocates traveled to Washington to meet with Associate Attorney General Tony West to push the idea of the commission beyond the talking stage, NPR has learned.

Former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Sue Bell Cobb, former Vice President Walter Mondale, New York indigent legal services director William Leahy, and Equal Justice Initiative Director Bryan Stevenson wrote a letter to the Justice Department earlier this year expressing concern that many defendants charged with minor offenses were not getting legal counsel and that others were not being properly served by overworked and underpaid public defenders.

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