Left Menu
Development News Edition

Senator Kamala Harris introduces bill to ease burden on public defenders

Senator Kamala Harris introduces bill to ease burden on public defenders
The legislation, being introduced Wednesday, is the latest foray into criminal justice reform for Harris, a former prosecutor and a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate who has said she wants to make the system more just. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris of California is introducing legislation, including a USD 250 million grant program, to ease the burden on public defenders around the country. The legislation, being introduced Wednesday, is the latest foray into criminal justice reform for Harris, a former prosecutor and a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate who has said she wants to make the system more just.

According to a summary released by Harris' Senate office, the proposal would create a grant program that would establish workload limits for full-time public defenders, create pay parity between public defenders and prosecutors within five years and collect annual data on public defender workloads. The legislation also would authorize $5 million for government organizations and nonprofits to provide training for public defenders.

"All too often, our public defenders are overworked and lack sufficient resources. This makes public defence unsustainable over the long haul," Harris said. "And the person who suffers is the defendant, whose liberty is on the line. It's wrong, and it's the opposite of justice." Many criminal defendants are too poor to hire a lawyer and instead rely on public defenders or court-appointed lawyers.

And under the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution, all defendants are guaranteed the right to effective assistance of counsel. But across the country, legal defence advocates say public defenders are overwhelmed and may be juggling hundreds of cases simultaneously. "We really do not have enough time to talk about all of the needs that public defenders have to do the work that communities impacted deserve of their lawyers," said Jon Rapping, a legal defence advocate and the founder of Gideon's Promise, a nonprofit that advocates for public defenders.

Last fiscal year, 1 in 4 public defenders in Kansas quit, with many blaming high caseloads and low salaries. After a recent study in neighbouring Missouri found that public defenders had two to three times the workload they should provide adequate defences, the American Bar Association said that public defenders "are being asked to carry outlandish, excessive workloads that prevent them from adequately representing their clients and making a mockery of the constitutional right to counsel."

Supporters of the legislation say it's a much-needed step toward ensuring that poor defendants are represented by competent lawyers with enough time to effectively handle their cases. Rapping, who consulted with Harris' team on the bill, also praised its focus on mentorship and training for public defenders. "Our criminal justice culture normalizes injustice," he said. "It happens to all of us, even public defenders. Poor people are routinely treated in ways we would never tolerate for our loved ones. Yet, there is often no outrage.

It takes ongoing training and mentorship to resist the pressures to become indifferent." Jo-Ann Wallace, the president of the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, said the legislation would "make a historic investment in our nation's fundamental promise of equal justice under law." "The right to counsel is enshrined in our Constitution, but this means little if the public defenders tasked with protecting due process and ensuring that every person receives a fair trial are denied the time and resources they need to provide effective representation," she said.

(With inputs from agencies.)

Download The Devdiscourse News App for Latest News.



SDG13: How you can reduce global warming by changing your food habits

The mega narratives of various international organizations give the impression that fighting global warming is only a job of government agencies. However, the European Investment Bank EIB has designed a questionnaire which besides making th...

SDG2030: Challenges of technological applications in advancing Global Goals

Application of contemporary and future information technologies may go milestones in advancing sustainable development goals SDGs provided the challenges are overcome and implementation is ensured....

Sustainable Fashion: UNDP wants you to wear properly to reduce Global Warming 

The experts have estimated that the amount of water used to prepare one pair of jeans and a T shirt is sufficient for a person to drink for 13 years....

World Economic Forum suggests 8 Education Models for Future Schools

In a report released on January 14, the World Economic Forum WEF has also picked two examples for each model from throughout the world. The WEF has emphasized that these schools systems would be crucial for Forth Industrial Revolution.&#160...


Latest News

Nearly 7,000 have fled Niger region hit by IS attack: UNHCR

Nearly 7,000 people have fled the region in western Niger where jihadist fighters killed 89 soldiers in a devastating attack earlier this month, the UN refugee agency said. But insecurity in the region is making it difficult for the UNHCR t...

UPDATE 6-SpaceX says 'picture perfect' test paves way for human mission

Elon Musks SpaceX simulated a successful emergency landing on Sunday in a dramatic test of a crucial abort system on an unmanned astronaut capsule, a big step its mission to fly NASA astronauts for the first time as soon as this spring. A C...

Cricket-World Cup sacrifice worth it for battling Wood

Fast bowler Mark Wood said he has no regrets about aggravating a knee injury during Englands triumphant showing at last years World Cup final, even though it sidelined him for six months.Wood, who hurt his left knee and suffered a side stra...

Moscow protest over Putin's political shake-up fails to gain traction

Over 1,000 people marched through Moscow on Sunday in an event a Kremlin critic tried to turn into a protest against a constitutional shake-up by President Vladimir Putin, but many demonstrators chose to voice dissent about other issues ins...

Give Feedback