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LD 1433: A Fully Funded Public Defenders Office Would Save Maine Money


In the third part of our series on the proposed LD 1433, a bill to create an Office of Public Defender in Maine, Merritt Heminway discusses how a fully funded public defender would save Maine money in the long run. With the cost of incarceration so high, and the cumulative effects of a criminal record on a citizen, Maine would be better off making sure that the poor get just as good a defense as those who can afford their own lawyers. The short term costs of an Office of Public Defender just don’t compare to the long term costs of longer jail times and harsher punishments.

We’d love to hear your comments about Governor LePage’s proposal, please let us know what you think in the comments.

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Here is a transcript of today’s video:

Why a public defender office makes sense for Maine.

Folks are going to jail that shouldn’t be in jail. It happens all the time and one of the big reasons is literally because attorneys are losing money when they represent the poor. When an attorney is losing money each time they spend an hour representing the poor, that means that that attorney is more inclined to resolve the case faster. That means the attorney is less inclined to file the extra motions that need to be filed. That attorney is less inclined to bring an appeal of an unlawful judgment. There is less litigation. There is less lawyering. There is less attention paid to the plight of the poor when the state seeks to put them in jail.

The tragic cycle, that we seen quite frequently, it happens in Maine all the time, someone is too poor to afford an attorney. They get appointed an attorney, free of charge, and that attorney is so financially stressed as a result of their commitment to doing this kind of work, that that attorney cuts corners or does not pay attention quite as much. And the lack of vigorous representation can result in many more years in jail for that defendant then would otherwise be appropriate. Can result in say a felony charge than a misdemeanor charge, which would have far greater consequences on their ability to earn a job or to earn an income or to get an education. And so it’s the little details that makes good lawyers. It makes way more sense to fully fund indigent defense, to pay the lawyers who represent the poor at a rate where they are not losing money.

The state of Maine pays $60 an hour for lawyers defending the poor. At this rate lawyers in Portland can’t cover expenses.

It’s time for the state to pay attorneys who represent the poor at the rate that it actually costs to represent the poor. Unfortunately the bill proposed by the governor is a great start to the conversation, but it doesn’t do that. It seems to contemplate a contracting system or maybe a public defenders office but not quite a public defenders office. All of this is up for discussion but at the most basic level at the state of Maine allocates more resources to the defense of the poor in the criminal courts, they will save money.

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