Overloaded Public Defense Systems Result in More Prison Time, Less Justice

A recent report published by the Justice Policy Institute looks at public defender’s offices across the U.S. and finds that their offices are overwhelmed and overburdened with cases. According to the study, 73% of county-based public defender’s offices lacked the number of attorneys to handle the volume of cases they should be handling under national standards, and 23% of these offices had less than half the number of attorney’s needed. National standards recommend that public defenders handle no more than 150 felony, 400 misdemeanor, 200 juvenile, 200 mental health, or 25 appeals per year. Prince George’s County crime statistics are some of the highest in the State of Maryland, and the public defenders are assigned to new clients every single day.

As an attorney, there’s a certain point where you can only handle so many cases effectively. Criminal defense cases require attention to detail in the preparation, meeting with clients, factual investigation, mitigation, etc. The stakes are high and each client’s case needs to be given all the time and preparation necessary to obtain the best results for that case. If an attorney has too many cases going on at once, its clear that they won’t have time to meet with every client and thoroughly investigate every case. The results of the cases are going to suffer from this, and the Justice Policy Institute report concludes that clients are going to be looking at more prison time because of an unjust system that overburdens public defenders. I say this as an attorney who has complete respect for these public defenders and know how knowledgeable and passionate they are about their work–it just becomes impossible to adequately defend all your cases when your caseload is double what it should be. As a private attorney, I have the flexibility to give every case individualized and careful attention and I pledge to do so for every one of my clients.

Our county and local governments spend ample amounts of money on policing, prosecuting, and incarcerating low-income individuals, particularly for non-violent crimes and minor drug offenses, while at the same time underfunding the local public defender’s offices. In addition to hiring more public defenders to reduce the overload, the Justice Policy Institute report suggests other solutions, such as a holistic approach that addresses the root causes of criminal behavior and prevention of future involvement with the criminal justice system by treatment, not incarceration, of the individual. Until such positive changes are implemented to reduce the burden on public defenders in Maryland, inequalities in the system will persist and justice will not be served. I am here to devote my time, energy, and expertise to your case so that you can move on with your life.

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