Eric Holder: Defendants' Legal Rights Undermined by Budget Cuts

Friday, 23 Aug 2013 01:09 PM

By Dan Weil

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The government sequester has gutted federal defenders' offices to the point of weakening the justice system itself, says Attorney General Eric Holder.

"The U.S. indigent defense systems — which provide representation to those who cannot afford it — are in financial crisis, plagued by crushing caseloads and insufficient resources," he wrote Thursday in The Washington Post.

"And this year’s forced budget reductions, due largely to sequestration, are further undermining this critical work."

Up to 90 percent of federal defendants are poor enough to qualify for court-appointed lawyers, Holder said, "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," Holder continued, adding that Congress needs to put money back into the public defender program.

"Unfortunately the federal public defender program is in dire straits."

As an example, he cited the federal defenders representing Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, noting that they have taken about three weeks of unpaid leave because of budget cuts.

"This shameful state of affairs is unworthy of our great nation, its proud history and our finest legal traditions," he said. "In purely fiscal terms, the cuts imposed by sequestration defy common sense because they will end up costing taxpayers much more than they save."

Holder went on to say that the sequester is turning the government's promise of adequate legal representation into a question mark.

"The moral and societal costs of inadequate representation are too great to measure. Only Congress has the ability to restore the funding that federal defenders need to ensure that justice can be done. It is past time for our elected representatives to act," he wrote.



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