Friday, September 7, 2007

Official Quits in Georgia Public Defender Budget Dispute

Christopher W. Adams, the first lawyer ever appointed to supervise the legal defense of poor people facing the death penalty in Georgia, announced last week that he was giving up on his “labor of love.”

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I regularly tell my students that it should not be easy to take someone's life. In fact, it should be the most difficult goal for the State to accomplish. The reason for this position should be obvious - the annals of assembly-line justice are replete with numerous problems - wrongful convictions, rampant racism, sexism, and mistreatment of indigent defendants who come before the courts seeking equal treatment.

Government has made several attempts to "fast-track" executions in the name of efficiency and cost savings. The 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and the revision to the so-called Patriot Act are just two examples. Should justice have a price? It already costs 2-5 times more to execute a condemned murderer than it does to keep him or her in prison for life, but obviously even the sum already invested is insufficient.

A more insidious attempt to make it easier to kill people is the continued underfunding for the defense of the indigent. Yes there are budget considerations, which should force discussions of whether or not a state can afford to have a death penalty process that both works and is fair. Since there are less expensive alternatives to capital punishment that achieve the same goals at least as effectively, what are we waiting for? When will the discussions of accountability and budget priorities occur?

The situation in Georgia is repeated around the country. Failing to fund an adequate defense for the indigent moves use further from the ideal expressed in Gideon v. Wainwright and places us on the "fast-track" to return to the days of the Scottsboro Boys and the decision in Powell v. Alabama.

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