Louisiana: Assembly Line Justice

A new report finds that Louisiana fails to reach 9 out of 10 indigent defense standards:

If you’re poor in Louisiana, you have no real access to justice. This is the inevitable conclusion of In Defense of Public Access to Justice: An Assessment of Trial-Level Indigent Defense Services in Louisiana 40 Years After Gideon, a report released today by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and researched by the National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA). Rather than constructing a “uniform system for securing and compensating qualified counsel for indigents” at “each stage of the proceeding” as required by the Louisiana Constitution, In Defense of Public Access to Justice documents “the significant extent to which Louisiana has failed to protect the rights of people of insufficient means faced with the potential loss of liberty in criminal proceedings.” (Report at p. 19).

Forty-one years ago, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court concluded in the case of Gideon v. Wainwright that the right to counsel in criminal proceedings is a fundamental part of due process and that state governments are responsible for providing a public defense system that ensures this basic right. In Defense of Public Access to Justice documents that Louisiana fails to meet nine of the American Bar Association’s well-respected 10 Principles of a Public Defense Delivery System – principles designed to provide guidance to policymakers as they seek to ensure compliance with the Gideon mandate. “The substantial failing of the system to meet these standards can only mean that the indigent defense system devised by the legislature in Louisiana delivers ineffective, inefficient, poor quality, unethical, conflict-ridden representation to the poor.” (Report at p. 56)

....As NACDL’s president-elect Barry Scheck points out, the failure of Louisiana’s indigent defense system has far-reaching public safety and fiscal implications for all people in the state: “When an indigent defense system fails, as it clearly has in Louisiana, innocent people go to prison while the people who actually commit crimes remain free – oftentimes committing more crimes. This undermines citizens’ faith in the criminal justice system. Furthermore, the added long-term fiscal costs that result from the state’s failure to invest in justice on the front-end – such as the costs of pre-trial and post-disposition incarceration, appeals, re-trial, settlements with innocent people who have been unfairly convicted, and systemic litigation – all of these costs are borne by taxpayers and community businesses on the back-end. Thus, when justice is not delivered in a fair, correct, swift and final manner, taxpayers shoulder an enormous increase in costs while at the same time remaining vulnerable to crime – the community bears the cost of the state’s fiscally irresponsible policies.”

The full report is available here (pdf). The full statements of NACDL President E.E. (Bo) Edwards and President-Elect Barry Scheck regarding the report are available here.

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    Assembly Line Justice (none / 0) (#1)
    by quella on Mon Aug 04, 2008 at 05:20:35 AM EST
    The substantial failing of the system to meet these standards can only mean that the indigent defense system. It devised by the legislature. In louisiana it delivers ineffective, inefficient, poor quality, unethical, conflictridden representation to the poor. Thank you.
    Louisiana Treatment Centers