Birmingham drug cases are often handled by the government-funded public defender’s office.
Historically, that’s because defendant’s and their families are hesitant to spend the money to hire a private Birmingham defense lawyer for a lesser felony when the government will pay for one for you.
First of all, there has always been a great deal of inconsistency when it comes to the quality of defense you’re going to get from the public defender’s office. Even if you get lucky and land a good public defender, he or she still isn’t going to have the time and resources to devote to your case that a private attorney will.
Secondly, state budget cuts that are now going into effect are resulting in even fewer resources to these offices. That means that the quality of public defense is going to decline.
What that means for you is that investing in an experienced drug crime defense attorney in Birmingham is even more critical than before.
Here’s what we know about the budge cuts, according to the Mobile Press-Register, the state’s new Office of Indigent Defense Services (which was created last year) is cutting its budget to hire new attorneys by $8 million this fiscal year and another $15 million next year.
Put another way, the state covered about $63 million on public defense during the 2011 budget. This year, they’re looking at spending about $55 million. Next year, it will be $40 million.
The implications for Birmingham drug cases are big because that means lawyers are generally going to be less experienced, their case loads will be larger (because there will be fewer new lawyers hired) and they won’t have as much money for expert witnesses and the kind of detailed legal analysis that can be necessary to properly defend a drug case in Birmingham.
State officials have said part of the reason for the decreased funding was that some circuits (it was not identified which) had been caught overbilling for certain services.
Last year, the governor approved a system whereby each circuit could choose whether it wanted to establish a public defender’s office or contract out public defense cases to private attorneys. It’s believed that the latter saves the circuit money because they don’t have to provide benefits to a private attorney, whereas they would have to if the attorney was a full-time employee.
But according to the Press-Register, those circuits operating with a contract public defender have lawyers with extraordinarily high case loads. So what you see in those instances is plea bargain after plea bargain after plea bargain.
Now, it’s important to note here that plea bargains aren’t necessarily a bad thing. If your attorney can leverage aspects of your case such as a skimpy prior record or flimsy evidence, a plea bargain could be a way to ensure you face minimal penalties.
However, when you see an attorney who logs a record of case after case that is only resolved by a plea bargain, that is a key indicator that he or she is not actually fighting for the rights of the clients.