The Legal Investigator Winter 2014 : Page 3

The United States’ high incarceration rate is not reflective of a high crime rate; instead, it is indicative of a criminal justice system focused on prosecution and ever-lengthening sentences. Criminal defense attorneys, specifically public defenders and court-appointed counsel, have growing caseloads and dwindling budgets, jeopardizing and often violating the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of right to effective counsel. 7 Criminal defense investigators, while undoubtedly necessary assets to the defense team, are drastically underutilized in the fight for justice and the protection of rights of those accused. The American Bar Association states: Defense counsel should conduct a prompt investigation of the circumstances of the case and explore all avenues One study conducted by the North Carolina Office of leading to facts relevant to the merits of the case and Indigent Studies compiled the resources and funding the penalty in the event of conviction. The investigation available to prosecutors’ offices across the state and should include efforts to secure information in the compared it with the funding for indigent criminal possession of the prosecution and law enforcement defense. The annual budgets for district attorneys’ authorities. The duty to investigate exists regardless offices, law enforcement resources, and unquantifiable of the accused’s admissions or statements to defense guilt or the accused’s stated resources (such as crime labs) totaled more than $285 counsel of facts constituting 10 million. During that same period, the annual budget for desire to plead guilty. indigent criminal defense was $102.5 million. 8 With an average caseload in drastic excess of American Bar Association recommendations, defense counsel often lack the time to meet with their clients prior to trial and conduct the necessary investigation. A prompt and thorough investigation is a luxury reserved to those indigent defendants charged with the most serious crimes or those defendants who are able to pay for a private defense team. While the district attorneys’ time is not solely spent on prosecuting indigent defendants, the district attorney requires far less time in preparing and trying cases. Another 2010 study, by National Center for State Courts, noted that district attorneys in North Carolina spend an average of 6.5 minutes prosecuting a defendant charged with a traffic offense, 43 minutes prosecuting a DUI defendant and 55 minutes prosecuting an individual charged with a drug offense other than trafficking. 9 It would be impossible for a defense attorney to provide effective, quality representation in those same minutes and provide the required, adequate investigation. It is simply impossible. winter 2014 Though criminal defense attorneys do not have the time to provide any investigation in the bulk of their cases, investigators are rarely used to fill this gap. A report from the Council of State Governments Justice Center studied the Harris County Public Defenders Office in Harris County, Texas. The findings in the report showed for example, the average investigative expenditures for felony cases was $34. Misdemeanors, a mere 22 cents. 5

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