Celebrate Public Defense!

Join our office and defenders across the country as we recognize the lawyers, investigators, social workers, mediation specialists, law clerks, paralegals and support staff who fight on behalf of their clients every day.

The Law Offices of the Shelby County Public Defender are powered by more than 80 lawyers and 40 support staff and managers. Sounds like a huge staff. Until you realize those attorneys represent 35 thousand people a year. Many of our lawyers have caseloads more than twice that recommended by the U.S. Justice Department. Try protecting someone’s constitutional rights when you have 900 cases.

Some of the best trained lawyers from some of the best law schools in the country work in our office. We either need more of them or if you ask us, we’d rather have a smaller, smarter and more humane criminal justice system – one that points people toward more productive lives instead of setting them up for a quick return to jail.

For nearly a century — the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office has provided zealous counsel to tens of thousands of people. We are proud of this tradition and are dedicated to building upon it. You can watch this video about the incredible story that sparked the founding of the 3rd oldest public defense system in the country.

During this Public Defense Week our office and defenders across the country in collaboration with the National Association for Public Defense​ are sharing stories and statistics to honor the anniversary of Gideon v Wainwright (1963) the landmark Supreme Court decision that established public defender offices across the country. Go to these hashtags on Facebook and Twitter #CelebratePublicDefense #DefendGideon #TippingtheScales

We need lawmakers, community leaders and all of our neighbors to support the work of our public defenders and staff. We need you to fight policies that decimate neighborhoods and put scores of people, disproportionately people of color, in cages. We need people like you to fight these policies that negatively affect their lives and those of their loved ones long after they’ve completed their sentences.

Here’s what you can do to support public defenders and their clients:

Follow the progress of this proposal from the Chief Justice of the TN Supreme Court to overhaul Tennessee’s bloated and outdate criminal sentencing laws.

Fight any efforts in the Tennessee legislature to cut public defense funding.Call your legislators and tell them you support State Representative Raumesh Akbari​’s bill to cut felony conviction expungement fees in half.

Support those who support the work of public defenders and their clients. Donate to Just CityNational Association of Public Defense and Gideon’s Promise.

Listen to the voices of public defenders and the challenges our clients face every day:

Why I Come to Work | High Ground News

Public Defenders Fight Injustices of Juvenile Justice System

Each day this week, defenders across the country honor Public Defense Week by looking at an issue that affects our clients. Today, it’s about our youngest clients.

In offices across the country, public defenders advocate for children in contact with the juvenile justice system. But too often, children go without adequate representation or any representation.
 
In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1 (1967), was a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that ensured the right to a lawyer for children accused of crimes in juvenile court. The ruling also provided other due process rights, including the right to be notified of the charges, the right to cross-examine witnesses, and the right to not have to make a statement against oneself. Nearly 50 years ago with Gault, the U.S. Supreme Court made clear that children need representation throughout the entirety of their cases. But today, few children receive meaningful access to a qualified juvenile defense attorney when in juvenile court.
 
Nationally, many juveniles accused of crimes never see a lawyer or receive ineffective legal advice. If they do get an attorney, it is usually the least experienced or the most burned out. Only 42 percent of youth in custody reported having a lawyer.
 
In Memphis, children accused of crimes are increasingly gaining access to quality defense through the Law Offices of the Shelby County Public Defender. Lawyers in our Juvenile Defense Unit are trained in the highly-specialized area of juvenile defense. Social workers, investigators and legal support staff work on teams with lawyers to deliver children and their families a defense guided by the expressed interest of the child, plus guidance and support through the entire legal process.
 
Our Juvenile Defense Unit was created in 2013, after the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division released a stinging report from a five year investigation that found the Shelby County Juvenile Court was systematically violating the due process rights of children and failing to provide equal protection for black children in the system.
 
The development of a Juvenile Defense Unit was a critical part of the Memorandum of Understanding the DOJ entered into with Shelby County and Juvenile Court in 2013. The Court is still working toward complete compliance and its progress or lack of is tracked by two DOJ monitors.
 
Juvenile justice advocates across the country are watching the development of this agreement, as it marks the first time the DOJ has moved against a juvenile court system.
 
Every day, our Shelby County Public Defenders and legal support staff fight the grave inadequacies still present in our juvenile courts, local law enforcement and school disciplinary policies. But they can’t do it alone. Support public defense and reform of the criminal justice of system at the local, state and federal level.
This week, help us as we join defenders across the country, in collaboration with National Association for Public Defense to raise awareness as we celebrate Public Defense Week March 13-18. Follow the hashtags #DefendGideon #TippingtheScales #CelebratePublicDefense on Facebook and Twitter and share.
 
Each day, we’ll focus on a vital issue facing public defenders and staff, but most importantly, our clients. The week will culminate on Saturday, March 18th as we celebrate the anniversary of Gideon v Wainwright (1963) the Supreme Court decision that established public defense systems across the country.
And all this year – we’ll be celebrating the 100th year of public defense in Shelby County. Watch this video to see the amazing story of how the case of a black man, wrongly accused of killing a white woman, sparked the creation of the 3rd old public defense system in the country.
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Read these local stories about juvenile justice in Memphis:
 
 
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Public Defenders Fight the Death Penalty

Today, defenders and advocates across the country shine a light on death row for National Public Defense Week.

Public Defenders are the voice of people on death row and are best positioned to remind the system of the humanity of those on death row. Public approval of the death penalty is at its lowest level in decades. There have been more than 150 people freed from death row. We may have already executed many innocent people. In Tennessee, 40% of those on death row are from Shelby County. Each day, our capital defense team fights the system to keep the State of Tennessee from executing more Memphians.
 
Death sentences are linked to mental health. One Oregon study found 2/3 of death row inmates had mental impairments. Prosecutorial misconduct is rampant in capital cases. One Arizona study alleged it in over 1/2 of capital cases.
 
Today, defenders and reform advocates across the country in partnership with National Association for Public Defense will bring attention to the work of public defense in death penalty cases. Follow these hashtags on Twitter #DefendGideon #TippingtheScales #CelebratePublicDefense.
 
All week, we’ll be working with our partners to bring attention to vital issues affecting our lawyers and staff and their clients. March 13-18th marks Public Defense Weeks and culminates on Saturday, the anniversary of Gideon v Wainwright (1963), the landmark Supreme Court decision that established public defense systems across the country.
 
All year, we’ll be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office. Memphis is home to the 3rd oldest public defense system. Watch this video to hear the amazing story of why public defense in Shelby County predates the Gideon decision by more than four decades. 
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DEATH PENALTY RESOURCES
 
Recent articles about the death penalty in Tennessee:
 
 
A few national stories on the death penalty:
 2016 marked another record decline in death penalty use | Death Penalty Information Center