By Sofia Hosseinzadeh
LOS ANGELES, CA – About 80 percent of individuals accused of crimes cannot hire attorneys and rely on public defenders for their cases, and, according to the new study, Los Angeles’ public defender system fails to comply with national standards expected.
The RAND Corporation, the National Center for State Courts, the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defense, and the Law Office of Lawyer Hanlon collaborated on the National Public Defense Workload Study to form a guide governmental bodies, attorneys and policymakers could follow.
Comparing this new standard to available data, public defenders in LA have double the workload hours recommended per year, the study revealed, adding public defenders are assigned a workload of about 4,160 hours—over twice the work hours available in a year including vacation or sick time.
“These standards confirm what we already knew—our office is operating hundreds of attorneys short, resulting in impossible workloads. This undermines our ability to provide constitutionally mandated representation under the Sixth Amendment and threatens the integrity of the entire criminal legal system,” said Garrett Miller, president of the Los Angeles County Public Defenders Union.
In Los Angeles County and neighboring Southern California counties, public defenders carry a workload two to three times larger than national standards, said Miller, noting the stressed system disproportionately impacts low-income Black, Brown, and immigrant defendants who are more likely to rely on public defense and receive more severe charges compared to white defendants.
California has seen multiple lawsuits from the ACLU because of the state’s failure to comply with the minimum constitutional requirements for public defense systems.
In one such case, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against Kern County where more than 10,000 accused pleaded guilty to crimes without having the opportunity to consult an attorney.
“County leaders must prioritize funding, workload controls, standards and data for public defense so that everyone in Los Angeles can access a lawyer who has time to zealously defend them,” urged Jess Farris, senior policy counsel at the ACLU of Southern California.