Just 12 years ago, Georgia’s indigent defense system was a national embarrassment. Defendants languished in jails for months at a time without ever seeing a lawyer. At many courthouses, assembly-line justice was the norm, with lawyers meeting their clients just a few minutes before entering guilty pleas.
The Legislature enacted sweeping reforms of the system in 2003, including a guarantee that defendants be entitled to the services of a public defender no more than three business days after being charged or jailed. It also required new defender offices to have divisions that specialized in the defense of children accused of crimes. Now, however, legislators are considering rolling back those reforms.
The proposals, attached to criminal justice reform legislation, could come up for a vote as early as Monday before a key state House committee.
“I’m shocked,” said former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Norman Fletcher. “It could certainly be a severe blow and could undo all we did to provide an adequate system to poor people accused of crimes.”