In stark contrast to many state defender programs, the federal public defender system has consistently served as a model for efficiency and success. According to court statistics, as many as 90 percent of federal defendants qualify for court-appointed counsel, and the majority of criminal cases prosecuted by the Justice Department involve defendants represented by well-qualified, hardworking attorneys from federal defender offices. Yet draconian cuts have forced layoffs, furloughs (averaging 15 days per staff member) and personnel reductions through attrition. Across the country, these cuts threaten the integrity of our criminal justice system and impede the ability of our dedicated professionals to ensure due process, provide fair outcomes and guarantee the constitutionally protected rights of every criminal defendant. [...]Not that Republicans in Congress care about the kind of defendants who can't afford high-priced lawyers, but you'd think the basic idea of justice might hold some appeal. (Sorry, that was a joke. Couldn't help myself. Of course not.)
This shameful state of affairs is unworthy of our great nation, its proud history and our finest legal traditions. In purely fiscal terms, the cuts imposed by sequestration defy common sense because they will end up costing taxpayers much more than they save. The right to counsel is guaranteed under the Constitution. On the federal level, this means that every defendant who is unable to afford a lawyer must be represented by either a federal public defender or an appointed attorney from a panel of private lawyers. While federal defender offices are staffed by experienced, dedicated professionals operating in a framework that has proved both effective and efficient, panel attorneys often possess less experience and incur significantly higher fees. An increased reliance on panel attorneys may result in less desirable outcomes as well as significantly higher costs.
Attorney General Eric Holder
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