Alison Siegler Writes About Spending Cuts to the Federal Public Defender System

You have the right to have an attorney. Budget cuts in Congress mean you may not get one.

More than 30 years ago, the Supreme Court held that most presumptively innocent people charged with federal crimes should not be locked in jail while awaiting trial. “Liberty is the norm,” Chief Justice William Rehnquist wrote, “and detention prior to trial ... is the carefully limited exception.”

For people arrested and presumed innocent, days – even hours – of needless pretrial jailing can cause a cascade of life-ruining consequences. Pretrial jailing causes people to lose their jobs, homes and children, disproportionately affecting marginalized communities in the process.

Protecting liberty requires lawyers, and lawyers cost money. But now, Congress is on the verge of slashing the budget of our federal public defender system. The funding cuts federal defenders face would inflict disastrous consequences on families and communities. To avert catastrophe in our federal criminal system, Congress must correct course.

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