September 29, 2004

"Cranking up the caseload"

Meth is messing with the court system in western Kentucky, along with its attendant thefts and forged checks charges. Public defender caseloads are estimated to hit an average 500 new cases per attorney by the end of this year.

The article reports that the commonwealth attorney and the p.d. are vying for the title of "Most Overworked Public Servant."

Ernie Lewis, head of the Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy admired by me (but not apparently by a disgruntled DPA insider) is quoted:

For Ernie Lewis, it means accepting a different, but equally harsh reality, the possibility that defendants under the counsel of his office may plead guilty to crimes they didn't commit.

Plea deals are a healthy part of the legal process, Lewis says, but "the caseload problem encourages plea negotiations." Some cases, he says, end up in a plea deal when a trial is justified. But the hours involved for both the public defender and the prosecutor may make a jury trial virtually impossible. That leads Lewis to his "greatest fear" as head of the public defender system, "people are ending up entering a guilty plea when they are in fact not guilty of what they're charged with."

Towering caseloads for both sides, he says, creates "an immense incentive to resolve the case with a guilty plea."

This is the home-brewed poison that corrodes everything it touches: the cops, the clients, their kids, and the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments.