This article in the NY Times captures the current state of indigent defense as well as the desperation of those who fulfill the 6th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution's promise of the assistance of counsel. Our society is failing to live up to this standard, which should be an embarrassment to the legal system and to all of us.
The continued failure to invest adequate resources in the public defender system has several consequences. First, inadequate resources contributes to the prison and jail crowding problem. As the article notes the defendant in Miami was about to be sentenced to 2.6 years in prison instead of one year because of a miscalculation. Wrongful incarceration is expensive - prisons are consuming larger portions of state budgets and families of inmates frequently turn to public assistance as their only means of survival. This case also reveals the second consequence of this failed policy - the miscarriage of justice.
Cases such as Powell v. Alabama and Gideon v. Wainwright contain the essence of a fair trial - access to the assistance of an attorney. Decisions such as Strickland v. Washington have undermined the quest for effective legal counsel, but the failure to adequately fund indigent defense will ensure continued miscarriages of justice such as incarcerating individuals longer than the statues call for or worse, sending an innocent person to death death row.
The solution is easy - increase the funding for indigent defense. But that concept has never been popular with legislators or tax payers. We can see where this issue is headed because of the failure to adequately manage the criminal justice process.