Federal Public Defender's Offices Face Budget Cuts

March 25, 2013

As federal budget cuts occur across the nation, the criminal justice system will not be able to avoid the same fate as other areas of government. Federal public defenders' offices all over the country are going to feel the impact of the mandatory budget cuts. Criminal lawyers employed by federal public defenders' offices claim the budget courts will cause staff reductions either by lay-offs or mandatory furloughs. Representatives of these offices say that the cuts and furloughs will cause cases to be delayed and the level of criminal representation will fall below the current standard. Both attorneys and support staff are either being laid off or are being forced to take off six or more weeks off without over the next half a year. A judge currently sitting on the Supreme Court of the United has expressed concerns that the criminal justice system could feel pressure as a result of the cuts.

The mandatory budget cuts are expected to slash 10% of the budgets of federal public defenders' offices. The United States Department of Justice have notified the offices of the potential cuts which have yet to take affect. U.S. District Judge Catherine Baker said that "It's important that people who don't have any power and any voice have people to speak for them." The cuts contravene the basic tenets set forth in United States Supreme Court case Gideon v. Wainwright. Fifty years ago the highest appellate court in the United States provided that criminal defendants be afforded a criminal defense lawyer in the event they could not afford one. Opponents of the cuts argue that the judicial system will get bogged down causing trials to be delayed and innocent people being convicted.

Some Miami criminal attorneys represent indigent defendants when the public defender's cannot due to conflicts of interest. As of yet, budget cuts have not impacted these lawyers that represent indigent clients. It is almost certain that the rates these lawyers bill will be cut as well. Potential budget cuts of this nature could cause these private attorneys to refuse to participate in the program. The same thing occurred a few years back in the state system when specially appointed public defenders had their rates cut to the point that the majority declined to continue representing indigent clients. Cuts of the nature could certainly bog down the criminal justice system in federal court.

Some federal courts have decided to reduce the number of days criminal cases are presented in court. These reductions come as a result of fewer public defenders and U.S. marshals being available for court. Representatives of the affected offices are also concerned that the budget cuts and furloughs will continue to get worse putting even more of a strain on the system. Staffing problems could become a concern as well, if support staff employees leave to find better paying jobs. While the level of the impact will be unknown for several months, the cuts are certainly going to have an adverse affect on the system.

Federal Defenders Face Deep Cuts, Delays in Cases,, Miami Herald.com March 24, 2013.