In today’s post, defense attorney Merritt Heminway continues his discussion of the virtues of a fully funded public defenders office in the state of Maine, and how we treat those who can not afford a lawyer can tell us a lot about ourselves as a society.
If you missed the first part, you can find it here: THE LATEST ON AN OFFICE OF PUBLIC DEFENDER IN MAINE
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Below is a transcript of today’s video:
THE LATEST ON AN OFFICE OF PUBLIC DEFENDER IN MAINE – PART TWO
I think a fully funded public defender’s office would absolutely provide better service for the poor of the State of Maine, there is no question in my mind. An underfunded public defender’s office could be a real disaster.
So, when we’re talking about whether or not to create a true public defender’s office, let’s make sure we’re talking about a true public defender’s office, and let’s make sure we’re talking about fully funding it, because otherwise the exercise will be futile. A lot of people will get hurt and we’d end up with something worse than what we have.
Public defenders and defense attorneys generally, they are the guardians of our civil rights. We are the ones who read those police reports. We are the ones who are watching the cruiser cams and the body cams. We are the ones who are trying to analyze that interaction between the police and the citizenry and trying to assist the state and assist the judge in arriving at what justice actually looks like.
So, whenever you have financially stressed out attorneys, or underfunded indigent defense systems, wherever you see that, anywhere in the nation and particularly in the State of Maine you are going to see injustices happen.
You will see further violations of civil rights that may not have been there before. You will see people being convicted of crimes they did not commit. You will see people going to jail who should not be in jail. These are the reasons why we need to fully fund indigent defense.
When we think about providing defense to the poor in the criminal courts, when we think about ways to do that, whether it’s a public defender’s office or a contract system or the imperfect system we have here in Maine right now, what it really comes down to is dignity and respect and who we are as a people, who we are as Americans.
I believe strongly that the ultimate historical look back on us, the ultimate judge of who we were as a society hundreds of years from now, were really hinged on how we treat the poor, how we treat the most wretched among us. The courts is the environment in which we seek to do justice, in which we seek to find justice and retribution for crimes committed, but it is how we treat people in that process will be how we are judged.
When we are making sure that the poor among us, that the people who have committed crimes who are among us, the people who are in the worst moments of their life who are among us, when they appear in front of court, we need to make sure that we are treating them with the dignity and respect that all humans deserve.