Commentary by Delores Manley
Anyone who needs a public defender is always getting the run around. The public defenders deal with hundreds of people a day. So, when someone comes in and can’t afford a lawyer they don’t really get the attention they need, and a lot of times they end up with unjust sentences. It’s not the fault of the public defender; it’s the fault of the system, which is underfunded so there are not enough public defenders. When you’re assigned a public defender, they usually come in late and don’t have much time to look over your case because they have to go run to the next person who couldn’t afford to bring their own lawyer.
I had proof that I could have taken my baby home (Editor’s Note: over 20 years ago). The public defender told me we would talk after I signed a form ensuring that he got his pay. He came in late and didn’t take the time to talk to me or look at my paperwork. He then told me that he had to go talk to the judge and I ended up leaving court without anyone seeing my evidence, and I wasn’t able to get my baby back. This was a heartbreaking time in my life. I didn’t know that I could file a complaint with the judge against the lawyer for not bringing forward all of the evidence. If you file a complaint the judge will ask you if you were coaxed by your attorney to plead guilty, if you say yes you can ask to be assigned a new lawyer who will look at your proof at a different trial date.
There are a lot of homeless people going to court everyday who are misrepresented by these public defenders who are simply too busy. If you are going to court and will have depend public defender you should bring a case worker or someone else to represent you so that you are not looked over the way I was. Additionally, be careful what you sign. Because if you sign something saying that you are guilty of the crime, you could sit behind bars and in the end be proven innocent while you would not be able to sue.
The pay gap becomes very apparent to you when you come to court. The rich can afford good lawyers and get to go to rehab. However, the poor people have to go to jail and don’t receive the help they need for addiction. Whenever you go to court dress, appropriately and show up clean cut-- appearance does matter. You can always get a suit from one of the shelters, call 211, or go up to Unique Thrift and get a nice suit for very little money. The American legal system is not fair to poor people.
Copyright Cleveland Street Chronicle April 2016 Issue 23.2 Cleveland Ohio