WWNO And Unprisoned Collaborate With Reveal On 'If You Can't Afford A Lawyer'

Dec 8, 2016

For several months, independent producer Eve Abrams, of Unprisoned, and WWNO news director Eve Troeh have been learning about and reporting on funding for public defense, and a drastic measure taken by the Orleans Parish Chief Public Defender this year.

The result: an hour-long collaboration with Reveal, from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.

Listen here to "If You Can't Afford a Lawyer."

Or catch it on 89.9 WWNO Thursday, December 8 at 8 p.m. or Friday, December 9 at 1 p.m.

All Americans are guaranteed a lawyer - if we want one - to represent us in court if we're accused of a crime. This is granted by the Sixth Amendment. It's that "if you can't afford a lawyer, one will be provided for you" language that's also part of the Miranda rights read during a police arrest.

Yet in Orleans Parish the public defender's office says it can't represent everyone who can't afford a lawyer. Almost everyone arrested here is deemed indigent. The public defenders handle more than 80 percent of criminal cases in the city, more than 20,000 cases last year.

At the beginning of 2016, Chief Public Defender Derwyn Bunton said his office could no longer handle all the cases assigned to it, while still maintaining professional standards. So, he told his lawyers to start refusing cases. Hundreds of cases have since been waitlisted, and that's meant people sitting in jail, sometimes for months, without the legal counsel they're constitutionally entitled to have.

In "If You Can't Afford a Lawyer," Eve Abrams and Eve Troeh explore the back story that led to New Orleans public defenders to refuse cases, and the wide-reaching impact of that decision.

With special thanks to host Al Letson, editor Laura Starecheski, and the entire CIR "Reveal" team.