29 January 2020

[Ryan Ralston] - AMERItocracy

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp made public his proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year.  
One recommendation he asked of lawmakers is to cut the funds to public defender offices throughout the state by more than $3 million—and increase funds to prosecutors by the same amount. 
More than $2 million of the anticipated “savings” would come from a hiring freeze placed on vacant positions to public defender offices - in other words - let’s ensure there is no reprieve for overworked public defenders and staff. They can - and will - do more with less. 
Governor Kemp’s opposition to adequately fund public defender offices guarantees a reduced proficiency in the state’s capacity to provide constitutional mandated counsel to those who cannot afford to hire a private attorney. Yes, even the indigent citizen is entitled to legal representation. 

The beauty of the US Constitution, it does not differentiate between socioeconomic classes. We are all guaranteed the right to an attorney.  
The $3 million slash is in addition to more than $1.2 million in cutbacks to public defender offices Governor Kemp recommended for the current fiscal year. 
Governor Kemp’s 2021 budget proposal would allocate $2 million in funds to recruit and retain prosecutors. 
The notion that the budget for public defender offices is on the chopping block but funding for more prosecutors – to include more for the DJJ – is requested, while the state offers hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks to the film industry, is ridiculous. In other words, the scales of justice are being tipped in favor of the state.
Yes, this is the same film industry that – despite the legislature’s generosity – is threatening to boycott Georgia for its “heartbeat” bill. 
Yes, this is the same bill the state will spend millions of taxpayer dollars defending in court. 
Why would our government want more of its citizens under sentence and on probation?  
If you answered for purposes of generating revenue, you’d be correct. 
This proposal is lauded by some within our legislature – namely Republicans - as a win-win for taxpayers, because it saves money and does not take away from other agencies
What the what? 
And who will continue to suffer? The exploited indigent described above. 
Is saving money more important than protecting your constitutional rights? Of course not, but you’re going to have a hard time convincing the legislature of this fact – especially the ones that lean right.  
What the legislature is acknowledging with the acceptance of these budget cuts is their lack of foresight. They are willing to trade short-term savings for a more expensive long-term reckoning. Rest assured it will come. History has an uncanny way of repeating itself. 
Guess what guys and girls, you can save more than $3 million annually by demanding criminal justice reform and not wasting taxpayer funds prosecuting victimless crimes. 
Governor Kemp also stated Georgia is “under siege” by violent street gangs. He promised more resources for law enforcement but wants to cut funding to those who defend the constitutional rights of all accused individuals. Yes, even gang members are entitled to legal representation. 
The beauty of the US Constitution, it does not differentiate between Bloods, Crips, Gangster Disciples, Aryan Brotherhood, Ghost Face Gangsters, etc. All are guaranteed the right to an attorney. 
After reading crime statistics published by Jason Pye of FreedomWorks, which contradict Governor Kemp’s assertion street gangs murder, rape, and rob with impunity in Georgia, it makes one wonder, why the sudden need to cut funding for public defender offices? After all, violent crime decreased in Georgia between 2010 and 2017. 
If we’re going to have more law enforcement officials and prosecutors to combat the threat street gangs pose, why not have enough public defenders to ensure the constitutional rights of the accused are protected. 
That’s what public defender offices do. They protect your constitutional rights. 
Governor Kemp touts his proposed budget cuts to streamline state government and follow-through on campaign promises. 
Is this the most fiscally responsible way to do it? History tells us otherwise. 
Addressing the subject of street gangs is an important social issue. Those accused of committing crimes in the furtherance of a street gang face harsh prison and probation sentences. The demand for proper legal counsel is just as necessitating. The whole there’s-a-tough-new-sheriff-in-town mentality to address this problem is dated. It regresses any progress made over the past decade within the criminal justice system as it relates to protecting a defendant’s constitutional rights. Incarceration and probation are not innovative ideas. They do not deter violent crime. Even crime committed by gang members. Yet, the legislature wants more taxpayer dollars for both. Sing after me boys and girls, “The wheels on the bus go ‘round and ‘round…”
A politician making the claim they are tough on violent crime, when crime statistics show violent offenses are on the decline, might get them re-elected, but it does nothing for addressing the actual issues faced by our state and the criminal justice system. Facts are stubborn things. 
Governor Kemp’s proposed budget is over $28 billion. Georgia has more than $2.5 billion in reserve funds, yet the governor feels cutting $3 million from the budget of public defender offices will make or break the state budget.  
The 6th Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees the rights of criminal defendants - including the right to a public trial without unnecessary delay – and the right to a lawyer. It is not followed by “…if you can afford one.” 
The right to legal counsel is ingrained in the American psyche. You can likely recite your Miranda warnings verbatim: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you….” 
Why is this so difficult for a politician to understand? 
Public defender offices are aligned with constitutional mandates. Repeated a little louder for those in the back, CONSTITUTIONAL MANDATES. They protect the CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS of those unable to hire private representation. The aforementioned exploited indigent. 
Why would the state legislature consider budget cuts to public defender offices a good idea? 
There are other areas in which the state can streamline government efficiency and save $3 million. 
For one. Eliminate the death penalty. Doing so removes the need for the office of the capital offender. That saves well over $3 million annually. 
If the legislature does cut the budget for public defender offices, while simultaneously hiring more prosecutors, it would delay justice, not make it more efficient. 
Yes, more arrests will be made, and more cases added to criminal dockets, but without enough public defenders to represent the accused, a trial cannot proceed. Again, it’s one of those pesky rights guaranteed by the constitution. 
This poses a potential problem of logistics for officials on a local level, too. Jails will be required to house the accused longer – while awaiting trial - which increases the tax burden on the citizen. It also raises concerns about the whole presumption of innocence thing, and according to the 8th Amendment to the US Constitution, our right that: “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” 
Governor Kemp’s goal to reduce gang activity will increase criminal prosecutions that require more public defenders, not less
In fiscal year 2019, public defender offices throughout the state received 144,224 new cases. That is a 20% increase from 2017.  The state can only prosecute these individuals as fast as public defender offices can represent them. This proposed lack of sufficient funding for public defender offices can lead to individuals appealing their conviction, citing ineffective counsel. If a new trial is granted, it would cost taxpayers more money to retry the case. 
Having adequate staff at public defender offices is essential to the integrity of the criminal justice system. Anything less is a disgrace. 
The law is now something that is being done to the people. It is adversarial in nature. These proposed budget cuts limit the people’s ability to defend themselves from their own government.  
Public defender offices are being asked to defend the constitutional rights of their clients and absorb the inefficiency of state government. 

Why both?