Thursday, October 09, 2003

Worthless Public Defenders

Such a concept certainly exists, and it appears to exist to a large extent in Nevada. I won't pretend to know everything about the public defender's offices in Las Vegas, but on the face of it, something is wrong.

It took me over 7 years before I was allowed to handle cases where the defendant was eligible for death, and if I actually got a case where death was a good possibility, I would have a co-counsel, probably one with death penalty experience. Apparently, in Las Vegas, if you fail a lie detector test (ie - the office thinks you are guilty), they assign you a brand new lawyer, reserving their "good lawyers" for "innocent" clients. CNN has a story about this, and the subsequent lawsuit where an exonerated death row inmate has sued the office for assigning a brand new lawyer on his death penalty case because they felt he was guilty.

I say sue, and get yourself a huge amount of money.

It should not matter to a lawyer whether a person is innocent or not. Of course it does, in reality, but such a consideration should not affect the manner of your reprsentation of a client. I will not put my head in the sand and pretend that individuals are not emotionally affected by this realization, but in Las Vegas, the office apparently has a policy of disciminating between cases in this manner.

Where I work, our best lawyers have worked on cases where the defendant was absolutely guilty, in fact, I would venture a guess that if you asked most lawyers (true believers, or those who think everyone is innocent, aside), they will probably admit that they have never had a murder where they absolutely believed that the defendant was innocent. Not guilty, maybe, but absolutely innocent? I have some news for you, it doesn't happen too often. On a death penalty case? Even less frequently. There may not be strong evidence of a person's guilt, there may be justification for the killing, but the absolute wrong person? It just doesn't happen that often. If I had to wait for one of those cases before I started working hard, I would not have anything to do.

Sometimes, your best effort is getting a dead bang guilty murderer life in prison instead of death, or a non-life sentence, or a verdict of guilty to a lesser offense. Fighting a case does not mean your only hope is to have a client walk out of the front door at the end of the proceeding. The Las Vegas PDs office, if the story is to be believed, will only work hard on those few cases.

Such an office, if true, should be disbanded and put back together in a responsible manner, where all defendants have true representation by dedicated lawyers. I certainly hope the allegations are false, because if they are true, they give public defenders everywhere a black eye.


Mike said...

Indeed it is like this. Off the record, my public defender (i live here in las vegas) told me that he can only work an average of 5 minutes PER case for anything that isn't a felony.

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