Mar 5, 2001
The American Civil Liberties Union has filed suit against the Cook County public defenders office, claiming it has been denying legal aid to 49% of all cases defendants who wish to appeal. The public defenders office represents the poorest defendants, who could not otherwise have a lawyer. The suit says the public defenders office refuses to handle these cases in order to lessen the work load of the public defenders office.
The public defenders office says it tosses out so many cases because the grounds for appeal are frivolous.
It's precisely serious crimes like murder, armed robbery and rape that many of the defendants who rely on a public defender are charged with. How dare the public defenders office say that when someone faces execution or many decades or even life in prison the case can be frivolous? The recent freeing of 13 persons from Illinois Death Row because they were found to be innocent shows that the lower courts are perfectly capable of making serious mistakes. (By the way, none of these 13 were freed by the efforts of the public defenders office, but rather by a university professor whose class pursued their cases.)
Either a person has a right to a lawyer at their trial and to aid them to bring their case as far as they want on appeal, or they do not have a right to legal representation.
It's already the case that the legal representation provided by over-worked public defender attorneys in no way compares to the type of legal representation wealthy people regularly buy, with lawyers and detectives who are willing to put in whatever time is necessary to prove the innocence of their clients –or at least get them acquitted.
The denial of representation to half of those poor people who want to appeal shows that the claim made that this society stands for equal justice and fair representation for all is just a lie.