Friday, March 18, 2016 · by Tamara Aparton
San Francisco—Public defenders in San Francisco will join with colleagues across the country today to celebrate the first annual Public Defense Day, organized by the National Association of Public Defense.
“Public defenders are much more than the people who represent you in criminal court,” San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi said. “Our job is to guard the constitutional rights of ordinary citizens, expose police misconduct, and provide a voice for society’s poor and powerless. We are grateful to NAPD for creating Public Defense Day and stand in solidarity with our public defense colleagues who are fighting on behalf of equal justice and due process across the nation.”
To coincide with Public Defense Day, NAPD today released its 2015 Annual Report, “All Day, Every Day, Public Defense,” featuring the day-in, day-out advocacy that public defenders provide in jails, courts and communities across the country. NAPD is an association of 12,500 practitioner-members focused on public defense reform and achievement.
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. They were at the South Carolina statehouse when the Confederate flag was removed after nine 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 two 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, Calif., 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, between 85-90% of all criminal defendants are represented by a public defender. 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.
You can access the report online at http://www.publicdefenders.us/?q=annual-report and learn more about NAPD ‘s work at www.publicdefenders.us and/or follow them on Facebook and Twitter.