Jon Rapping, Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School professor and founder and president of Gideon’s Promise, a national organization aimed at improving indigent defense, was recently interviewed by The Seattle Times regarding an ongoing indigent-defense case.
The Seattle Times reports:
Today, many in America’s legal and law-enforcement communities — from judges and prosecutors to defense lawyers — believe the promise of Gideon v. Wainwright, grounded in the Sixth Amendment, has mostly gone unfulfilled. To prove it, some point to Mount Vernon and Burlington.
The Skagit County towns are at the center of a groundbreaking class-action civil-rights lawsuit over indigent defense filed two years ago by the American Civil Liberties Union, alleging misdemeanor defendants were given little more than a “meet ’em, greet ’em and plead ’em” defense by a pair of public defenders expected to handle more than 2,000 cases a year.
Now, with a Seattle-based U.S. District Court judge set to rule on the case, Mount Vernon and Burlington may become part of an unprecedented solution — the first-ever federal-court takeover of a public-defender system.
The goal, Rapping said, should be that the indigent accused “receive the same kind of representation that you or I would pay for.” The reality at this point, however, is that most public-defender agencies — including the federal Public Defender’s Office — are struggling with budget cuts and a paucity of resources, he said. “It’s unfortunate, but over the years we have become accustomed to a lower standard of justice for poor people,” Rapping said.
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