Thursday, December 26, 2013

Fresno County Public Defenders in Crisis

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the landmark judicial decision regarding the right of everyone to a fair, speedy and effective day in court regardless of their economic status. In 1963 the U.S. Supreme Court in Gideon versus Wainwright established a legal principal and underscored a constitutional right that many Americans probably think had been recognized long ago. After all, the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution was part of the original United States Bill of Rights ratified by Congress in 1791. However, it took Clarence Earl Gideon, a homeless man with an eighth-grade education to confirm that right for all the rest of us. While that time-honored entitlement is by now well-established in law, it is still a work in progress and faces severe challenges because of the harsh economic conditions and prosecutorial policies that exist today. Fresno County Public Defenders say their office is in crisis... In late September virtually all the attorneys in the office wrote a strongly-worded letter to the Board of Supervisors complaining about their working conditions due to excessive caseloads. Their clients are people who can’t afford a private lawyer and whose lives caught up the legal system due largely to the War on Drugs, and complicated by social circumstances such as poverty and joblessness. Some attorneys say Fresno County could be violating the Sixth Amendment. Vic Bedoian filed this report from Fresno.