The public defense system in the United States is a cornerstone of our democracy. It is meant to ensure that everyone accused of a crime gets a lawyer — even if they can’t afford one.
Under our Constitution, every person is innocent until proven guilty and deserves the chance to be properly defended in court. Unfortunately, this right to counsel is not ensured everywhere. States and even many individual counties have their own unique public defense systems, which struggle in unique ways to conduct their work. Fifty years after the landmark Gideon v. Wainwright decision, chronic underfunding and overwhelming caseloads for public defenders are putting this country at great risk of not fulfilling one of its most important promises: to provide quality representation to those in need.
The right to counsel enshrined in the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution is unmet in many states across the country because the states don’t provide adequate funding, increasing the risk of wrongful convictions and costly appeals.