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Allen, et al. v. Edwards, et al. (Amicus Brief)

On June 16, 2021, the Brennan Center filed an amicus brief in support of a class action lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Louisiana’s public defense system.

Published: June 17, 2021

Allen v. Edwards is a case about Louisi­ana’s fail­ure to protect the rights of people who are charged with crimes and cannot afford their own lawyer, and the consequences of that fail­ure.

Nearly thirty years ago, Louisi­ana’s public defense system — which repres­ent people facing crim­inal charges who cannot afford their own lawyer —was in crisis, prompt­ing the state supreme court to inter­vene and ulti­mately lead­ing to legis­lat­ive change. Unfor­tu­nately, the prob­lem remains unsolved. Today, the state’s public defend­ers are financed in large part through traffic ticket reven­ues and local court fees, lead­ing to pervas­ive fund­ing short­falls, and too many cases for too few defense lawyers. As a result, people wait in jail for far too long without ever meet­ing their attor­ney, and do not receive the consti­tu­tion­ally effect­ive repres­ent­a­tion guar­an­teed to them by the Consti­tu­tion.

To correct this injustice, a group of Louisi­anans facing crim­inal charges filed this class action, arguing that the state’s fail­ure to provide for a robust public defense system viol­ates their consti­tu­tional rights. The exper­i­ences of the case’s named plaintiffs under­score the sever­ity of the prob­lem. One, Fred­er­ick Bell, describes being repres­en­ted by three differ­ent lawyers over the course of a month, none of whom spoke to him in any mean­ing­ful way about his case. Another named plaintiff, Michael Carter, waited three months before being assigned an attor­ney.

The Bren­nan Center filed an amicus brief arguing that the class action lawsuit chal­len­ging these fail­ures should be allowed to proceed. Draw­ing on the Center’s research on poverty and mass incar­cer­a­tion, the brief argues that systemic under­fund­ing of indi­gent defense leads to longer sentences and unfairly secured convic­tions, contrib­ut­ing to Louisi­ana’s high incar­cer­a­tion rate and entrench­ing socioeco­nomic hard­ships. The brief also argues that the Louisi­ana Supreme Court should consider broad remed­ies to address this crisis, and that such remed­ies would be consist­ent with the Court’s preced­ent.