Commentary on Alabama Law and Society

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Location: Birmingham, Alabama

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Let them eat cake.

Or something like that. In this story about indigent defense in New Orleans, the Baton Rouge district attorney's office likened the New Orleans public defender's complaints about funding to you or I complaining about not being able to eat lobster or steak every night. After recent layoffs, the pd's office has six attorneys. They are supposed to represent about 5,000 clients. Perhaps a more apt comparison is you or I complaining about not being able to eat at all.

Alabama also underfunds indigent defense. Even if you think everyone who gets arrested must have done something wrong (and most did) that does not mean they should all stand alone before the power of the state. The criminal justice system is a machine. It has no feelings; it just operates on those fed into it. If you are ever accused of a crime, the only person in that system who will ever treat you like a person and plead your case is your attorney. The attorney does more than just protect the innocent, he also makes sure the guilty receive no more punishment than necessary. Isn't that part of the meaning of 'an eye for an eye?'