Steven Hale wrote an article in last week's Nashville Scene on the Nashville Public Defenders Office overwhelming caseload. One visit to any of the criminal courtrooms in Nashville supports that conclusion. The article does a great job setting out the facts and the money issues. A hearing was held last year arguing a case should be dismissed based upon a denial of a speedy trial. The main focus of the motion was that public defenders were over worked and could not prepare the defense.The Nashville Public Defender was represented by three attorneys at the hearing. Ms. Deaner's attorneys assert that the office should have 67 full time lawyers rather than the 44.5 full time attorneys on staff.
What should we do to solve the problem ? First, taxpayers are not thrilled that their tax dollars are being used to defend alleged criminals. The only real solution is to increase funding for the public defenders office. The Constitution demands us to fund indigent defense. I do not predict any relief from the state. It does appears that Nashville receives less per case that the state average. Since the government is not willing to step up to the plate, what else can be done ?
Effective January 1, 2017, the Nashville Public Defenders Office will not be accepting misdemeanor criminal cases where the accused makes bond. Now the next question is what does that mean to the folks who don't get a public defender ?
Misdemeanor cases are just as important as a felony charge. Collateral consequences occur with most convictions especially a DUI or domestic violence charge. So what happens when the public defenders refuse to accept a misdemeanor bond case ?
You get a court appointed lawyer. According to the article, it will be a crap shoot. The judge or the judge's assistant will appoint a lawyer to your case. Here is an example in one case. Accused is screened by the public defender. A judge's secretary hands the accused a card to call lawyer. Remember every judge is different and each will have a different policy.
The lawyer may be experienced or fresh out of law school. May have never handled a case like yours before. No formal training on handling the defense of a DUI case. Once the case is over, the court appointed lawyer will not expunge your record if the case is dismissed. Just because you"re a lawyer does not automatically make you a criminal defense lawyer. The people who may suffer is the folks who can get out of jail but not able to get a lawyer. Also, folks might even decide to go without a lawyer and waive their right to a lawyer. Let's see what happens in a couple of months.