Term: 8 yearsThe public defender represents those accused of a crime and facing incarceration who are unable to afford legal assistance, and so fulfills that person’s constitutional right to have an attorney. The public defender may be contacted with questions about criminal defense services and assigned counsel, Chattanooga Legal Aid, public court records, and accessing free legal advice.
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Steven E. Smith
What do you consider the most serious problem defense attorneys in Hamilton County face when representing clients charged with a criminal offense?
Do you agree or disagree with the following statement?
The Office of the Hamilton County Public Defender has sufficient resources to provide each defendant it serves with reasonable and adequate legal representation.
If your answer is yes, how do you allocate those resources to provide each defendant reasonable and adequate legal representation?
If your answer is no, what resources would you want to see added or improved?
What do you see as the biggest challenge for the criminal justice system today?
Overcharging. Only a small percentage of clients are convicted as charged. There is a rampant problem with the practice of "overcharging." The justice system condones the practice of the State accusing defendants with counts and charges that either the State doesn't intend to prove, or routinely can't prove. The harm is that bond amounts are based on all charges, thus those bonds are unnecessarily inflated. As such, more defendants remain in custody pretrial than their convictions warrant.
The Office of Public Defender for the 11th Judicial District is a State Office. Tennessee primarily funds the prosecution and defense functions. But the workload is driven by municipal and county government entities. The number of arrests that must be resolved by the court system is wholly a function of Sheriff and Police discretion, or a lack of it. In that politics affect our budgets, Public Defender offices statewide will continue to be underfunded unless and until market forces are introduced into the criminal justice system. When local governments are asked to pay filing fees and court costs on every case they bring, just like private litigants, then prosecutors and public defenders will be more able to keep up with the workload.
Mission creep. The criminal justice system evolved to deal with societal problems that society didn't want private individuals to handle. Think of Murder, Arson, Rape, and Robbery. The system has evolved with two competing principles in mind: (1) protecting the accused through the concept of due process and civil liberties, and (2) providing public retribution and rehabilitation for wrongdoing. By continually adding new crimes and wrongs to what the criminal justice system is responsible for handling through our generational social experimentation with the expanding role of government, an expensive and complicated justice system designed to handle serious offenses is tasked with solving all our ills.
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