All posts by ajnguyen97

Self-Analysis Post

When I first started this blog project, I did not know much about the prison system. My only knowledge of prisons came from movies such as The Shawshank Redemption. Because I knew so little about the prison system and how criminal justice worked, I did not have an actual opinion on the legal rights of the accused. Before I began researching the issue of defendants’ rights, I was aware that the US Constitution and several Supreme Court cases provided accused people rights to an attorney and protection against excessive court fees punishable by prison.

However, I did not know that even today many defendants who cannot afford their own legal services are denied complete protection by laws guaranteeing the right to a lawyer and preventing excessive bail and debtors’ prisons. I also found the other side of the issue in which courts do not receive enough funding from the states, thus forcing them to charge defendants large fees.

My research progressed my understanding of the issue in which underfunded courts have limited resources to provide defendants who cannot afford to pay for their own legal services. I used a variety of sources when researching including blogs, news articles, journal articles, and statistical data. This variety of sources helped me grow as a thinker and allowed me to understand the complexities of the issue of defendants’ rights. Reading different people’s perspectives on the same issue allowed me to formulate my own opinion in which courts should be funded in order to give poor defendants equal rights as defendants who can afford their own legal services. Another source that contributed to my understanding of my issue was the comments on my weekly blog posts. These comments brought up discussions on defendants’ rights and the extent to which they are actually provided in courts.

Through this blog project, I understand the complexity defendants’ rights within the court system. Writing the weekly, analysis, and theory posts improved my writing and researching skills. These posts also taught me how to see multiple points of view in any issue.


Other Blogs to Check Out- Class Links

There were three other blogs in our class that discussed issues in the social sciences.

The mixedsalad blog is a great blog to check out if you’re interested in racial issues in America. It discusses how racial relations affect education, police brutality, employment discrimination, and segregation. We find this to be a very thought-provoking topic because even after the civil rights movement there is still racial discrimination present in society.

The 5girls4education blog is another blog you should read if you want to learn about the issues in the American educational system. It analyzes low teacher salaries, rising college tuition, charter schools becoming more recognized, after-school programs, and the inequality between public and private schools. This blog was relatable to our group because we attend a public university and are interested in the issue of increasing tuition.

You should visit the blog about gun violence if you want to learn about the portrayal of gun violence in the media, its relationship to mental health, and the political conflict between gun rights and gun control. Gun violence is becoming an increasingly pressing issue because reports on shootings are occurring more frequently in the media.

The Future of Defendants’ Rights – Implication Post

If defendants’ legal rights are not extended to treat people equally, then accused people who are unable to afford legal services will continue to be discriminated against.

People who cannot afford bail and court fees will still receive additional punishment such as being sent to jail while people who can afford to pay fees will avoid punishment. In the last five years, 48 states have increased the amount of criminal and civil court fees. Many defendants now have to pay for legal services that should be free such as public defenders, supervision during probation, or electronic monitoring. Defendants even have to pay room, board, and cost of care in prisons. The trend of increasing court fees will continue to occur if defendants’ rights are not addressed and the court system are not properly funded. Increasing court fees will worsen the problem by forcing more people in jail for not being able to pay the court system.

Similarly, people who can afford attorneys will continue to receive much better protection than people who cannot afford attorneys and have to be appointed public defenders. According to the NLADA, people who cannot hire private lawyers are appointed public defenders that have excessive caseloads and have limited resources due to underfunding.

Discriminating against the poor in the criminal justice system will create a cycle that punishes people without money. If a poor person is accused of a crime, he or she will be more likely to go to prison because of a overworked public defender or being unable to pay court fees. This will lead to an increase in prison populations and make the criminal justice system more expensive for states, thus forcing them to further increase court fees.

Theory Post – Pretrial Services Programs

In my previous posts, I discussed various political views on the issue of defendants’ legal rights in court. Some groups believe that defendants, especially those who cannot afford to pay for legal services, are not given enough rights in court. These groups want reforms that increase the rights of defendants because the current system violates many rights guaranteed by the US Constitution. Other groups say that states do not have enough money to set up new programs to expand the rights of defendants. States already have to charge defendants court fees in order to finance their courts.

In order to solve this deeply divided issue, there must be a compromise between both sides in which small increases in defendants’ rights are made without spending large amounts of money. The first issue that should be addressed is if a person cannot afford to pay bail. The compromise that can be used to solve this problem is the implementation of pretrial services programs, which can be used to investigate the arrested individual to see if he or she is at risk of fleeing from trial or dangerous to the general public. According to Court & Community, these investigations are used as recommendations to a judge who decides whether the accused person can be sent home, needs to be monitored and supervised, or should be sent to jail. The National Institute of Justice suggests that pretrial services programs “can minimize unnecessary pretrial detention, reduce jail crowding, increase public safety, ensure that released defendants appear for scheduled court events, and lessen invidious discrimination between rich and poor.” The implementation of pretrial services programs benefit groups that want to increase defendants’ rights because it mostly eliminates the issue of excessive bail stated in the Eighth Amendment because investigations by pretrial services officers can allow people accused with minor crimes to be sent home without having to pay bail if they pose little risk. It also helps the groups that want to limit spending because pretrial services programs will reduce overcrowding in jails. This decrease in costs will also allow courts to decrease the amount of court fees they charge defendants. Another solution is to administer electronic monitoring systems. The Yale Law Journal suggests that electronic monitoring reduces fugitive rates by allowing the defendant to be easily located. It also can reduce state government expenditures by reducing the number of defendants that have to be detained.


Analysis of Legal Rights of Defendants

Fundamental rights in the criminal justice system are often denied or not fairly provided to people who cannot afford essential legal services. These legal services include attorneys and bail. People who cannot afford an attorney are represented by overworked public defenders who cannot provide effective protection as compared to private lawyers. People unable to pay bail or other court fees are often sent to jail. The US Constitution’s Bill of Rights requires the criminal justice system to treat every defendant fairly by administering punishment to each offender through a fair trial. However, the justice system does not treat every defendant fairly and holds a bias against people who cannot afford legal services.

The criminal justice system does not treat defendants equally when providing the assistance of counsel. A principal right in the US Constitution is the right to an attorney. The Sixth Amendment  states, “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right…to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.” In the past, this right was often not provided to people who were unable to afford an attorney. However, in the case Gideon v. Wainwright, the Supreme Court required state courts to appoint attorneys for defendants who could not afford to retain counsel on their own. These appointed attorneys are called public defenders. Even though Gideon v. Wainwright removed bias in the court system by allowing people unable to afford a lawyer counsel in court, there still is a significant difference in the quality of protection. According to an article from the New York Times, public defenders are suffering from so many budget cuts and growing caseloads that offices in several states are refusing to take more cases or are suing to limit them because defendants’ rights to counsel are being undermined. The article found that from 2005-2008, “the average number of felony cases handled by each lawyer in a year has climbed to close to 500, from 367” and “caseloads for lawyers assigned to misdemeanor cases have risen to 2,225 from 1,380.” This large increase in caseloads for public defenders raises the question of whether public defenders can provide equal protection compared to private lawyers. There are several limiting factors that give a disadvantage to public defenders. One of the major limitations is that you do not get to select your own attorney. Instead of being able to interview a handful of lawyers to find the best one, you are simply assigned one public defender. Additionally, public defenders have less time on each case. According to recommendations based on the National Advisory Council on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals, public defenders receive way more cases than recommended and have much less time to handle each case than recommended. Although all public defenders are qualified lawyers who have passed the Bar exam in their state, these two limitations cause public defenders to not be as effective as private lawyers. Appointing public defenders that are not as effective as private lawyers causes unequal treatment between people who cannot afford a lawyer and are appointed a public defender and people who can afford a private lawyer. The criminal justice system favors people who can afford to pay for their own attorney because they are more likely to avoid being sentenced.

The criminal justice system also does not treat defendants equally in regards to paying bail. People who cannot afford to pay bail are often detained in jail. According to the New Jersey Jail Population Analysis, “38.5% of the total [prison] population, had an option to post bail but were held in custody solely due to their inability to meet the terms of bail.” This means that many of the inmates were not serving an actual jail sentence but instead waiting for their trial. These “pretrial detainees” have to suffer through these jail conditions for months until their trials. The punishment of having to serve jail time can be exacerbated by circumstances such as not being able to work and earn money for an extended period of time and possibly being fired because of it. Because of this, defendants are more likely to plead guilty if the chance of acquittal is low or if the expected sentence on a plea bargain is less than the jail time that would be served before the trial. However, people who are able to pay bail are able to avoid jail time before their trial. People should be put in pretrial detention if they have a propensity to run away before their trial or are a risk for causing harm to the public. Instead, pretrial detentions usually ignore these risks and instead mainly put people too poor to pay bail in jail regardless of their risk level. According to the Justice Policy Institute, “pretrial detention has a documented negative impact on pretrial and case outcomes.” People who are held pretrial are more likely to receive a sentence of incarceration and be sentences longer than those released pretrial. When held in jail, the defendant is unable to work with their counsel to prepare the defense, gather witness and other perform other activities need to present a strong case in court. The establishment of bail and pretrial detention does not treat people equally under the law because there is an economic bias in which people who cannot afford bail receive more punishment than people who can afford it.

Poor people are also discriminated against in the area of court fees. States are increasingly charging defendants court fees in order to finance their criminal justice systems. Defendants are charged a variety of fees. Defendants have to pay fees for legal services that should be free. For example, public defenders are lawyers given to defendants who cannot afford an attorney. Adding a court fee onto the public defender defeats the purpose of appointing attorneys to people who cannot afford counsel on their own. Numerous court fees can add up to thousands of dollars. The problem arises if the defendant fails to pay these fails. If the defendant is unable to pay these fees, he or she is sent to jail. According an article by NPR, cities “violate the rights of poor residents by issuing arrest warrants when people fail to pay court fines and fees, without first considering whether they are too impoverished.” This contradicts the outlawing of debtors prisons in the United States almost 200 years ago. It also goes against the Supreme Court ruling in 1983 in the case Bearden v. Georgia, which established that judges cannot send people to jail because they are too poor to pay court fines. Similar to the situation with public defenders, the criminal justice system has not entirely implemented the Supreme Court ruling. A 4-month study in 2013 of jail records obtained found that about a quarter of the people in jail for misdemeanor were there because they did not pay their court fines. Miriam Aukerman, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said “it’s not that it’s wrong to charge people money as a way to punish them, but there have to be alternatives for people who can’t pay.” The alternative cannot be incarceration for the poor and payment for the rich because this favors people who can afford to pay court fees. The idea that people who cannot afford to pay court fees go to jail while people who can afford to pay do not challenges the principle of the criminal justice system that people are treated alike regardless of whether they are rich or poor.

The criminal justice system does not treat every defendant equally because it denies principle legal services such as attorneys from people who cannot afford them. Furthermore, the justice system incarcerates people who cannot pay bail or court fees while people who can afford them do not go to jail. This vastly differing treatment of defendants based on ability to pay for legal services is unconstitutional and goes against the basic principle of the criminal justice system in which each defendant should receive a fair trial decided only by the law and the evidence provided. As public defenders struggle with limited resources and heavy caseloads due to budget cuts and states continue to increase court fees, defendants will still be unfairly treated within the criminal justice system.

Court Fees

Today, I will discuss how the court system is not free and comes with a price. This directly follows up with last week’s post which can be found here.

NPR’s series Guilty and Charged found that states are charging defendants more and more court fees to finance the criminal justice system and other state programs. NPR, with help from the Brennan Center for Justice and the National Center for State Courts, conducted a nationwide survey of fees courts are charging to defendants. The survey shows that defendants even have to pay a fee for their public defender. This brings up a major problem because public defenders are supposed to be free and for people who cannot afford to pay for an attorney. This also challenges the fundamental principle of criminal justice that the rich and poor are treated alike. The criminal justice system also charges defendants at every step, from the courtroom, to jail, to probation. These numerous fees can add up to thousands of dollars. If defendants fail to pay these fees, they are sent to jail. People with money can afford these fees and avoid having to serve jail time. However, people who cannot afford these fees receive worse treatment under the court system and go to jail. The defendant’s sentence is supposed to be the punishment for the crime. Charging fees for the privilege to be prosecuted and sentenced for the crime creates a double penalty.

State legislatures set the fees for the criminal justice system. These legislatures do not want to raise taxes so they fund their court systems by charging fees to defendants.

What do you think about this subject? Should state legislatures be able to charge defendants fees in order to fund their courts? Does this cause the criminal justice system to favor the rich over the poor?

Public Defenders

The Supreme Court case Gideon v. Wainwright considered whether the Sixth Amendment’s right to an attorney applied to state courts. In court, Gideon did not receive counsel and had to represent himself because he could not afford an attorney. The Supreme Court decided

“any person haled into court, who is too poor to hire a lawyer, cannot be assured a fair trial unless counsel is provided for him.”

That decision was in 1963, but even now people who cannot afford an attorney are not equally represented in court.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 60-90% of criminal defenders need public attorneys. These public defenders represent people who cannot afford to hire an attorney. Public defenders have to handle much larger caseloads than private lawyers, which prevent them from providing effective representation to all of their clients. Most states have guidelines that restrict the number of criminal cases that a public defender can work on. However, these restrictions are frequently bypassed and public defenders are given more cases than state guidelines allow. According to a NY Times article, public defenders have to practice triage in order to handle these heavy caseloads. They do this by prioritizing their limited resources into higher-level cases such as murder while lower-level cases do not receive as much attention.

A study conducted in the Missouri State Public Defender System found that defenders spent an average of nine hours to prepare their cases on serious felonies and two hours for misdemeanors. This is much less than the 47 hours called for felonies and 12 hours for misdemeanors.

How can we claim that we allow everyone a fair trial if people represented by public attorneys statistically receive less protection? Even today, the right to a lawyer heavily favors people who can afford an attorney over people who cannot. What do you think about this issue?