By John-Michael Seibler, JMI Intern, Graduate of Boston University in Philosophy, & J.D. Candidate at Washington & Lee School of Law
Posted June 13, 2012
Florida’s Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments earlier from Public Defenders who claimed they could no longer properly defend the public. Charged with the duty to defend the indigent accused of crimes, these attorneys have been arguing for some time now that they are overburdened with this workload. The body of persons which they serve has grown too large, and therefore, outgrown the effectiveness of their service.The issue, however, is not only the immense number of cases, but the affect this quantity has on the legal service the attorneys are able to offer in each instance. It is a sad fact that in many instances individuals forego certain rights and legal protections because there are simply too many people needing them protected at once. The standing rule currently in question is that if the Public Defender cannot offer effective legal counsel, it is directed to decline or withdraw the case. One hopes that the rights of the indigent are not trampled beneath their own mass in an overcrowded criminal justice system.The remedy may not lie in the outcome of this case alone, therefore, but in a holistic approach to the larger problem of crime in society requiring government action –or less action and massive reform across several social issues. Scaling back what many argue to be failed wars on drugs, poverty and truancy among others and rethinking these vital issues may produce the keys to alleviating the burdens upon our overworked public defender’s offices. Until that happens, the focus must remain on effective representation and the integrity of justice in criminal law.