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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.