The Mississippi Supreme Court, back in 1995, declared that the quality of representation for poor defendants "goes to the very heart of how we as a civilized society assure equal justice to rich and poor alike." Unfortunately, 20 years later, some counties in Mississippi are spending less than $2 per capita on indigent defense, reported Al Jazeera. To make matters worse for poor defendants, there is no state oversight of this patchwork system. Circuit court judges are the highest legal officers in the counties, and the only check on their judgment is the ballot box.
At least one of these judges, Marcus D. Gordon, has admitted to not assigning public defenders until after indictment—when formal charges are filed against a defendant. Gordon has claimed the policy is necessary because of scarce resources. But in a state that sets no time-limit on how long someone can be held in jail before indictment, the result is that poor defendants who can’t afford bail routinely end up in jail for months without ever speaking to a lawyer.
In fact, his response during the Al Jazeera interview to the following question will startle you and give you an insight to Mississippi's criminal justice system.
But what if months pass between the arrest and the time of indictment?
Lady, people charged with crimes, they are criminals. And they say what meets their purpose. Now they told you they had requested an attorney. They had not requested an attorney in 98 percent of the cases. You never hear of that. I never hear of that.
I don’t know whether they have requested an attorney or not. They would not be entitled to an attorney until indictment, as a policy of this district by myself and the other circuit judge. It would be an additional burden on trial attorneys to go out there and investigate every single case.
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Michael Thomas Gargiulo, Pretrial Hearing 41
5 hours ago