Click the title of this post to link to an article in Slate the online e-zine, concerning what is passing for indigent criminal defense in many parts of the country.
The need for fairness in Criminal defense is running right into the frustration with higher defense costs and the unbearable cost of a systemic vision that wants to incarcerate rather than rehabilitate more and more people.
It seems that with the economy in relative good shape and crime down dramatically over the last 2 decades, now would be a good time to reduce incarceration and dockets and put more money (not all money) into rehabilitation programs which will further reduce Criminal Justice costs.
Moreover the need to fairly fund defense costs is a constitutional guarantee. As a nation we are not doing it. As a state we are barely doing it. Counties seeking to put a cap on defense costs are going to underfunded Public defense offices. Many (definitely not all) are no more than ministering to the plea bargain machine.
Meanwhile in giving people convictions they should not take we are destroying their job prospects. The cycle is going to catch up with us sooner than later and we are lacking a real national criminal justice dialogue because the powers that be are talking at each other not to each other.
Politicians, especially House Judiciary Committee chairmanF. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. need to stop the pandering and really focus on the long term issues.
Truth first. There is no need to fix the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. So far they do not seem to be broken. Booker was a good fix.
Second. We have got to have a way for people who make mistakes to fix their lives and to be fully restored to full citizenship. If we incarcerate we need to be sure these people can support themselves when they get out without committing new crimes. It is important we get bills that take away some of the post conviction penalties to employment or we are going to have a bigger and bigger permanent underclass.
Third. Most crime is best handled on the local level STOP FEDERALIZING CRIME. CONGRESS DOES NOT KNOW BEST. I do not want the mores of the Utah citizenry or the Wisconsin citizenry or even the New Jersey citizenry telling me what I should have as laws here in NY. I like living in NY and especially on Long Island. I do not feel the need to tell Arizona how to act. Why do they feel the need to tell me?
.08 may be the perfect breath reading to have in congested cities or states to determine intoxication. It may not be in a state that or area where .10 or even .15 works as well. .08 may be destroying the restaurant scene and costing the state and it's people a lot of money in taxes. Maybe people are safer at .08 but people in a certain state may want to live with the risk and pay less taxes associated with .10. They may not even want to have a breath test relying instead on common law proof of intoxication. It should be up to the state's citizenry as a whole.
Same thing with guns.
Drugs importation is a national issue as they are distributed all over and rather easily. However maybe we need to focus on the importers and not on the corner salesman. By the time it gets to the street pusher, it is already too late. We cannot afford to clog our jails with these small time users. It costs too much and in fact as they age out it costs way to much and we get nothing for it.
Defense attorneys need to be more than a rubber stamp for plea bargains. If too many cases are being plead out we have to begin to look at whether we are properly paying enough to the people who are defending the cases. They can't defend a case if they have caseloads in the 100's. It just isn't physically possible.
We have to be realisitic about what a criminal justice system can accomplish and who it accomplishes it for. It is there for society as a whole. More victims rights legislation is not needed. In fact less is appropriate. They have a sufficient say through proper use of the civil justice system. Strengthen that. Stop introducing legislation and guidelines that have nothing to do with the proper goals of a criminal justice system.
Mandatory Minimum Sentencing is quackery. There isn't a real theory of mandatory minimum that fits into a fair sentencing system. Proof is that it is more of a harm than a good even when individually considered. STOP THE MADNESS THAT IS MANDATORY MINIMUM SENTENCING.
Stop trying to control the whole thing. You are not powerful enough to control the conduct of everyone. We don't need you micromanaging courts.
Side note to the Supreme Court of the United States of America. Pay serious attention to the 5th and 6th amendment and the rights of the judiciary and stop cedeing so much power to the Legislature. They have a right to make laws, the court should be deciding how those law impact individuals. Stand up for that right.
There are some excellent blogs out there talking about these issues daily. If you want more information on federal sentencing and sentencing on a whole, Try Doug Berman's Sentencing Law and Policy Blog here and in the Second Circuit a newcomer the Second Circuit Sentencing Blog by clicking here.