December 02, 2015 Articles

Overworked and Underfunded: A Fair Trial Issue for Indigent Defendants

By Lori Mullins

In Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963), the Supreme Court held that the Sixth Amendment's guarantee of counsel to an indigent defendant is a fundamental right essential to a fair trial. Some 50 years later, the issue has become whether indigent clients will be appointed competent counsel to represent them given the lack of adequate funding in public defender offices.

In the recent Washington Post opinion article titled "I'm a Public Defender. It's Impossible for Me to Do a Good Job Representing My Clients," Tina Peng writes about how in 2014 she worked on over 300 felony cases—double what the American Bar Association recommends. Her story is one shared by many public defenders in densely populated areas throughout the country. In California, for example, while the state recommends 150 felonies per year, the average Fresno public defender handles 1,000 felonies per year.

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