In the fair, just, and wise United States legal system, arrested individuals who are unable to pay for an attorney will have one provided to them at no cost. Americans can sleep well knowing we’re not animals who would make the neediest amongst us face the full resources of the state without a trained advocate. Just kidding! Here’s John Oliver to explain why the right to an attorney is basically just a mythical unicorn that farts apple-cinnamon rainbows.
First, some states grossly exaggerate the ability to “afford an attorney.” In four of them, there are people who qualify for government food assistance, but don’t qualify for a public defender.
Assuming an attorney is appointed to you, that person is very unlikely to win your case. Public defenders are so overburdened that some are taking on hundreds or thousands of cases in a year, leaving them just minutes to prepare you for your case (in New Orleans, it’s as low as seven minutes). And in that short time, they’ll likely advise you to take a plea bargain—which is understandable, because many of their offices are underfunded and don’t have the time or staff to investigate your case and exonerate you. Cool bonus: Some of their offices are full of roaches.
When you plead guilty (and 90-95% of poor defendants do, in this situation), some states will bill you for the attorney you couldn’t afford, and maybe even make you pay the prosecutor. (In this, as in many things, Florida is the worst.)
Oliver closes out his segment with an updated, more realistic version of your Miranda rights read by TV cops from Law and Order and The Wire. And Dennis Quaid.
Hope everyone had a pleasant weekend!