SAVE PUBLIC DEFENSE IN LOUISIANA AND END “USER PAY”
Louisiana is in a Constitutional crisis. In Louisiana, Public defense may be lost forever. Your right to a lawyer when you can’t afford one. The Sixth Amendment. The cornerstone of American justice. Gone.
Before COVID, Louisiana had already long undermined the right to a lawyer.
In Louisiana, like in the rest of the country, public defense is supposed to be free. But Louisiana not only chronically underfunds public defense, but it is the *only state* with a public defense system forced to survive predominately off of “user pay”—the traffic tickets, fines, and court fees paid by the very people defenders represent–those too poor to afford an attorney.
Louisiana may now lose public defense altogether.
Already cash-strapped and struggling, public defense offices will have no choice but to lay off and furlough essential staff because the pandemic has depleted this unjust and unstable funding source. The result: Thousands in jail with no lawyer. Police misconduct will go unchallenged. Victims will be denied justice. This time, the constitutional right to a public defender may never recover.
The State Legislature Could Do Justice
Louisiana must fully fund public defense, instead of forcing those who can’t afford a lawyer to pay for legal services they have a constitutional right to.