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 Join to Focus on Implicit Bias and Racial Injustice

Each day this week, defenders across the country honor Public Defense Week by looking at an issue that affects our clients.

Public Defenders are on the front lines of today’s greatest civil rights struggles. Race permeates every aspect of our criminal justice system. Even computer algorithms used in risk assessments are known to be programmed with racial biases. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, police are three times as likely to search the cars of stopped black drivers than stopped white drivers. Black drivers are also more likely to be pulled over and less likely to receive a reason for being stopped.
 
People of color are disproportionately likely to be incarcerated: one out of every twenty-nine black adult women and men are currently incarcerated compared with only one out of every 194 whites men and women. When incarcerated, people of color continue to be discriminated against. In fact, an investigation into New York State Prisons showed that black inmates were punished at significantly higher rates than white inmates, and are sent to solitary confinement more often and for longer
 
Most U.S. states restrict the voting rights of citizens convicted of crimes. Since black Americans are overrepresented in the criminal justice system, voter disenfranchisement has a disproportionate effect on the black population.
 
Every day, public defenders work to mitigate racial inequity in the system. 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. 
 
RESOURCES ABOUT IMPLICIT BIAS/RACIAL INEQUITY IN THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM:
 
 
The Impact of Implicit Racial Bias on the Exercise of Prosecutorial Discretion | Seattle University Law Review  
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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