A blog post I wrote a week ago about GPDSC’s alliance with the Attorney General’s Office to oppose the Georgia Bar’s formal advisory opinion regarding imputed conflicts for indigent defendants inspired a few comments over on my Facebook page. A friend of mine who is a former assistant public defender commented:

The absence of conflict-free counsel is hardly the most shocking failure of the current system. When I was an APD, I carried 50-70 cases on a trial calendar at once. I had no idea which case would be tried when. I was expected to announce “ready” in the vast majority of my cases.

Assistant public defenders often carry a much higher caseload than ABA Standards would allow. I point out the state of affairs in no way with the intent to bash individual public defenders. Indeed, for many, the role of public defender is a noble calling. And some of the most talented appellate and trial lawyers are know are public defenders. My critique is more systemic.

Rather, the lack of resources for public defenders, in terms of money and personnel, is at the level of crisis in Georgia. We have a system in place operating without a committment to run it properly.

Unfortunately, for a defendant who finds himself convicted in the midst of this crisis, appellate courts are not going to be receptive to an ineffective assistance of counsel claim. Rarely, likely less than 5% of the time, does an IAC claim work because the standard for effectiveness it the ultimate low bar.

And the greater problem, at least in Georgia at the state level (there are a few county systems in Georgia that are wonderful), is that the free market is a greater delivery system for criminal defense representation than is the government. Of course, the indigent cannot enter the free market. Meanwhile, the government is quite a deadly deliverer of prosecutions.

I wonder if it isn’t time for a “no defendant left behind” model, which would provide government vouchers for indigents to hire criminal defense counsel.