13 Apr 2022


Indigent Defenders-The Role of the Public Defender

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The Judiciary is the arm of the government that reinforces the law. It explains the law and ensures laws are followed otherwise penalties are issued. The judiciary has the Supreme Court as the highest court and other subordinate courts to assist in carrying out its key role: serving justice. It should be noted that nobody is above the law and the judicial system in the United States uses the constitution as the main reference point. A constitution is a set of agreed upon rules and laws that govern a country or a state. When lawbreakers are brought in, all their rights are read to them and effort is made to make sure none is violated. In the event of an arrest, the Miranda rights are read to the arrested persons. The Miranda rights are found in the Fifth Amendment (Wachtler, 2010). The Miranda rights clearly state, “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford, one will be provided for you.” It is mandatory for the police to read you your Miranda rights since it allows them to use all evidence gathered during interrogation in court. In the event that one was not read to their Miranda rights, the case is not automatically dismissed but the situation prevents the police from using the evidence gathered during questioning or any confession made in court. However, what the Miranda rights do not consider is that they place great strain on public defenders (LastWeekTonight, 2015). The rights clearly state that the state shall provide an attorney for the arrested individual. The public defender in question is overworked and significantly does not get pay equal to the work done. Public defense seems to be the main root of the Justice tree, and since there are discrepancies within this department, it is safe to say that the justice system of the United States is as good as broken.

Who is a public defender? A public defender is a law official appointed to represent poor people or those who cannot afford one during a court hearing or trial. As stated in the Miranda rights, those who cannot afford an attorney, have one provided for them. At such points is where public defenders come in. Contrary to popular stereotypes, public defenders are real lawyers. Just like private lawyers, they studied and went through all check measures to become lawyers just that they represent the people who are not well able and are paid by the state institutions responsible for them. Their advice is sound and professional just like that of private lawyers. The constitution stipulates their role through the sixth amendment. The sixth amendment affords all citizens the right to counsel and thus the government is expected to provide legal counsel to indigent defendants in criminal cases. A defendant is one whom the case is brought against in court: the one being sued or accused. As may be expected some may not be able to hire lawyers or may not have adequate knowledge of the law to represent themselves and therefore need the services of a public defender (LastWeekTonight, 2015). The sad scenario in the United States justice system is a cause for concern. Public defenders have been given the lion's share of defense work and have been paid the least. Public defenders represent 85% of offenders, yet these officers are paid less than 1% of the money allocated to them (Mathieu-Leger, 2016). This is according to John Oliver who considers the public defense system and the whole justice system in the United States broken. It is broken because those who are overworked are so badly underpaid. There are many people held in detention centers without having been tried or attended to because to public defenders can be found to represent them. It was reported at a certain time, 33 out of 42 public lawyers refused the cases handed to them simply because of funding shortfalls. No one would want to work for free, yet they have bills to pay, and their lives are pivoted on their jobs. If public defenders continued to refuse poor payments and rejected the jobs presented to them, the poor may end up living and wasting away in jail simply because they cannot have their rights given to them. The justice system is crippling the same laws it is charged with the mandate to interpret and reinforce.

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It is interesting to note that public attorneys offer very competitive services. The offices of these attorneys are very competitive such that only the best are hired. They build expertise and gain experience polishing their skills to a high level. They offer good training such that new members in the field are not far behind but gain experience rather quickly. So many, gain expertise, build a name and head out for better jobs. According to the video, law officials and sheriffs have adopted the user pay system. In this system, one gets to pay for all legal services provided. The same is happening in Minnesota too. The process of free legal representation is not well equipped monetarily to the extent it is considered against the constitution. Another uncalled for event is in California. In a particular case back in 1993, there was an alarming discovery of a defense attorney with 21 defendants but is still under consideration to be added, other defendants. To add on the fact that they are underpaid, public officers often have to contend with sub-standard ill-quipped offices (Rosenfeld, 2015). 

The poor who are represented by these public defenders get billed for the services of these lawyers. It should be taken into consideration that these people needed a public defense lawyer because they have limited financial abilities. They cannot afford good education or others social services, but still, the burden of paying for a lawyer is placed on them surprisingly. The lawyer also never gets to receive good measure for their work. In all manner of ways, the justice system is full of deadly loopholes. The user pay system is most preferable thus creating a man-eat-man society.

Brazil stands out as the only country where the public defender system is funded by the government. The representation of the poor and destitute is enshrined in the constitution. Attorneys are provided for the poor on the wrong side of the law, and the government foots the bill. "Defensoria Publica" meaning the Public Defender's office is a legal requirement in the Constitution at both state and federal levels. The poor declare formally that they cannot afford to pay for a lawyer and as a right, one is given to them. These lawyers not only represent criminals but offer legal guidance and assistance in other civil matters such as family issues, social rights, consumer rights and class actions. The constitution that was effected in 1988 made the provision of justice to all and also provided for legal assistance with the Office of Public Defenders being established to provide this assistance (Alves, 2014). This unlike US public defender system is inclusive of all people in the society even the poor.

In Singapore, public defense is provided by the state and the Pro Bono Services Office. For the needy and those who are poor, the Pro Bono Services Office of the Law Society offers legal assistance. Under statutes covered by class, the legal services are provided for those who have other cases that do not result in a death penalty. The Criminal Legal Aid Scheme offers the monetary fund to pay for the assigned lawyers.

The institution of public defense was instituted after it was agreed that for fair trials, those who could not afford legal advice and representation be provided with this service. Before the Sixth Amendment, those who could pay for lawyers were the only ones who got legal representation. The case that solidified this amendment was the Powell v. Alabama case where nine boys were given heavy penalties after a false claim made against them (6AC, 2017). Two white ladies claimed to have been violated by the nine ‘Scottsboro Boys,' and they were sentenced to death, all except one, despite the doctor's proof that none of the ladies' claims were true. In that period, representation for the indigent was offered only for those who faced capital offenses. These boys were given poor unqualified representation, and the case gained a lot of attention after several appeals. Several cases that followed such as the Betts V. Brady case and the Gideon V. Wainwright case helped solidify the case that representation be afforded to all poor persons.

Justice should be given to all equally regardless of whether they are the offended or they are the offender. Equal representation should be there for all and also fair hearing. This is because even though one has committed a crime, they do not cease to be citizens of the country. The constitution provides rights for every citizen and by virtue of the offender being a citizen; they are entitled to these rights. Their status may change, and only the state may limit their freedom of movement and other little freedoms, but they are not taken away completely. Also when these people serve their sentences and are released, they continue to remain citizens. Being the offended party does not elevate your status too. Both the offender and the offended remain citizens, therefore, justice shall apply equally to all.


Alves, F.C. (2014). Contemporary challenges to legal aid in Brazil and England: comparative perspectives on access to justice. Amicus Curiae , 98. Retrieved from: http://journals.sas.ac.uk/amicus/article/viewFile/2279/2206  

LastWeekTonight. (2015, September 13). Public Defenders: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO) . [videod file]. YouTube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=USkEzLuzmZ4&feature=youtu.be

Mathieu-Leger, L. (2016). Louisiana, race and the consequences of a broken public defense system. The Guardian. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/video/2016/sep/07/louisiana-public-defender-system-black-men-video  

Rosenfeld, L. (2015). John Oliver Tackles Our Broken Defender System On ‘Last Week Tonight’. Tech Times, Retrieved from: http://www.techtimes.com/articles/84593/20150914/john-oliver-tackles-our-broken-public-defender-system-on-last-week-tonight.htm  

Sixth Amendment Center. (2017). Understanding Powell V. Alabama . Retrieved from: http://sixthamendment.org/the-right-to-counsel/history-of-the-right-to-counsel/understanding-powell-v-alabama/  

Wachtler, S. (2010). You Have The Right To Remain Constitutional. The New York Times . Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/13/opinion/13wachtler.html  

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