A South Florida Democrat is joining one of his party's most prominent senators to offer a bill which they say will help support public defenders.
On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., brought out the “Ensuring Quality Access to Legal Defense (EQUAL Defense) Act” in the House, being championed in the Senate by Kamala Harris, D-Calif. Harris is running in the crowded Democratic presidential primary.
“As the U.S. Supreme Court held in the landmark case Gideon v. Wainwright, every individual charged with a crime has the right to counsel, and if they cannot afford the legal representation, the state must provide it. However, public defenders today are often overworked and lack sufficient resources. An estimated one in every four people charged with a misdemeanor and facing the possibility of a jail sentence is not represented by a lawyer,” Deutch’s office noted. “The EQUAL Defense Act will provide financial support for public defense systems and training programs that aim to improve the delivery of legal services to indigent criminal defendants.”
Deutch weighed in on why he was backing the bill.
"It is a constitutional right in our country that every American accused of a crime has the right to counsel; unfortunately, that right is being threatened by under-resourced public defender's offices," said Deutch. "Every defendant must be afforded the opportunity to a fair trial and due process, regardless of whether they can pay. To ensure that our justice system is fair and works as it should, Congress must step in to help local defender offices who operate under overwhelming caseloads."
"After spending my career around the criminal justice system, I've seen up close how it can fail to ensure that poor defendants receive a fair trial and due process, as guaranteed to all of us in our Constitution," Harris said. "All too often, our public defenders are overworked and lack sufficient resources. This makes public defense unsustainable over the long haul. And the thing that suffers is the integrity of our system of justice, which is supposed to be based on fairness and equality. It's wrong, and it's the opposite of justice. I have introduced the EQUAL Defense Act to give public defenders the tools they need to ensure a more effective criminal justice system and to deliver on Gideon’s promise."
First elected to Congress in a special election back in 2010, Deutch sits on the U.S. House Judiciary Committee.