In a study from Colorado, Missouri and Rhode Island, researchers measured the actual time public defenders spent on a case compared to the time that should be spent. In other words, how much 1:1 time is actually needed per attorney, per case, to uphold every citizen’s constitutional right to a ‘reasonably effective defense.’
Their findings are alarming: “the typical public defender had two to three times the workload they should in order to provide an adequate defense. In Louisiana, defenders have almost five times the workload they should.”
In a response to the discoveries, The American Bar Association remarked that “outlandish, excessive workloads” make “a mockery of the constitutional right to counsel.” And they are correct. As cited in “A 3-Step Solution to the Public Defender Crisis,” attorneys who may handle up to 50 cases per day will only average 1-5 minutes of prep time per case and, in some states, cannot withdraw from any of them on the basis of overload.
“When obstetricians have five times as much work as they can handle competently, terrible things happen… When public defenders have five times as much work as they can competently handle, terrible things happen, too.”
Stephen Hanlon, General Counsel of the National Association for Public Defense, One Lawyer, 194 Cases and No Time.
The Public Defender’s Solution to Overload and Case Management
Recognizing these challenges among several friends in public defense, we partnered with them to better understand the process, map out the obstacles, and build a mold-breaking solution developed by and for the public defender – no one else.
Now available and supporting several public defender’s offices, we caught up with Terry Chaudhuri, ImageSoft’s Subject-Matter Expert for Public Defense, to better understand how The Public Defender’s Solution is protecting Constitutional Justice.
Q: What would you say is the core purpose of the Public Defender’s solution?
Terry: The Public Defender Solution extends the same level of organization, access to relevant information, and use of modern technology (like electronic signatures), that is already often seen in other areas of the Criminal Justice System, like the District Attorney’s Office and Courts. Americans have constitutional rights to a fair trial, so having a robust modern system is paramount to Public Defenders giving the best possible defense.
Q: In a rapid-fire list, bullet point the Public Defender’s top three (or five) challenges that are solved with this solution.
- Access to Case Data and Documents in an organized manner
- We often see Public Defenders without a case management system of their own. They then struggle to get access to data from the Prosecutor’s System and may receive data in an unstructured format or, maybe, not at all.
- We also often see Public Defenders still trying to manage paper files. This is obviously a challenge with the amount of content they may receive.
- Time Tracking
- Time Tracking is an important factor, especially when using outside counsel to support the Public Defender’s Office.
- Managing Caseloads (e.g. assignments, tasks, and scheduling)
- Public Defender Offices are often overwhelmed with cases, so organizing the workload, tasks, and calendar events is crucial.
- Multimedia Content
- With video being such a prominent part of criminal cases today, Public Defenders struggle with the ability to receive and view the multitude of formats they receive.
Q: We know Case Conflicts are always a concern. How does the Public Defender’s solution help resolve conflict issues?
Terry: Identifying conflicts is a common need for a Public Defender’s Office. Cases need to be checked for conflicts to ensure fair and proper representation. This can be troublesome in an environment where all the information isn’t readily available or organized in a manner conducive for determining conflicts. The Public Defender’s Solution allows for conflicts to be detected through automated rules, as well as manually flagged by intake staff. Cases flagged as conflicting can then be re-assigned or routed to outside counsel if applicable.
Q: There are a lot of general case management systems out there. What makes this solution specific to the Public Defender?
Terry: Most case management systems (CMS) we see in the market today were either not created with the Public Defender in mind or don’t cover all the aspects they need. Many existing CMS will add a few fields or change a few screens around to try and fit it for the Public Defender, but that typically isn’t enough to be an effective solution that covers the end-to -end needs of the Public Defender’s Office. Our Public Defender Solution was developed specifically for the Public Defender’s Office and manages all aspects, including the case data, documents, processing, and reporting.
Q: Budget is always at the forefront, but especially during the pandemic. How does the solution support every-day budgeting, and what are some funding options for counties who wish to pursue the solution?
Terry: Public Defender Offices often receive funding through grants or other Federal, State, or County Support. For example, the State Justice Institute (SJI) has a current grant called the “Court Pandemic Response and Recovery” that was recently established due to the COVID-19 crisis.Our solution aligns with many of these programs and allows for the tracking of expenditures and funding sources to assist with reporting needs, and re-application for future or ongoing funding.
At Your Counsel
If you haven’ already, we recommend exploring the funding options currently available to you through the CARES Act and SJI grants.
For a better understanding of The Public Defender’s case management solution, please contact us through webchat or this short form.
You fight for everyone else – let us fight for you and the decency of case management etiquette.