NAPD Releases 2015 Annual Report
NAPD's exclusive focus on public defense does not mean the fight is restricted to courtroom struggles. This report chronicles the scope of services that public defenders provide and the incredible impact that the public defense function has on individual lives and the community at large. While criminal justice news dominated public consciousness and there is sustained community mobilization to address injustice, public defenders are at the very center of America's increasingly public confrontation with racial prejudice, poverty, and the deeply dehumanizing experience of mass-incarceration.
Throughout 2015, public defenders articulated the dramatic differences – time and time again - between prosecutors in grand jury proceedings against poor people (disproportionately people of color) and those against police officers accused of killing poor people (almost always people of color). Public defenders led the movement to end the imposition of fines, fees, unconstitutional bail and debtor's prisons. When Baltimore rioted and hundreds of people were denied both lawyers and bail, public defenders were there. When the media so aggressively vilified James Holmes to threaten his right to a fair trial, public defenders were there. They were at the South Carolina statehouse when the Confederate flag was removed after 9 black people were killed in a Charleston church. Public defenders are fighting to end the solitary confinement practice that led to the death of Kalief Browder, who killed himself after spending 2 years in isolation in pre-trial detention on Riker's Island before his case was dismissed, and to raise the age so that no child is subjected to prison's harshest environments. Without public defenders in Orange County, the District Attorney's and sheriff's wide-ranging ethical breaches would have continued to deny justice to thousands of poor people just as they had for the last 30 years.
In most jurisdictions, 85-90% of all criminal defendants are represented by a public defender. In this relationship so many of America's socio-economic ills are exposed. The public defense professionals who daily deliver the right to counsel in the courts, jails and their client's communities are criminal justice experts, and the most committed and qualified entity to lead the movement to bring justice to a broken system.
Today is the 53rd anniversary of the Supreme Court's Gideon decision and the first annual Public Defense Day; a day to acknowledge the enormous value of the right to counsel as well as the many obstacles that interfere with its meaningful implementation. NAPD is proud to highlight the talent and innovation occurring in jurisdictions throughout the country, particularly in light of extreme underfunding, political interference and limited opportunities for public recognition.
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