Today, U.S. Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01) and Mike Quigley (IL-05) sent a letter to Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi urging them to prioritize funding for federal defender services in current budget negotiations. Substantial cuts as a result of sequestration have already resulted in furloughs and layoffs in federal defender offices around the country. Further cuts will significantly delay criminal justice proceedings, increase costs to American taxpayers, and severely jeopardize the constitutional right to effective counsel.
"Every member of Congress takes an oath to support and defend the Constitution, and that includes the Sixth Amendment right to counsel in criminal cases," said Rep. Bonamici. "Unless funding is restored for the federal public defender program, Congress is shirking its responsibility. The cuts will delay or deny justice for the victims and the accused, and, ironically, cost us more in the long run. Congress must address this problem in the current round of budget negotiations."
"Congress has a responsibility to the American people and to the Constitution to uphold every American's constitutional right to counsel by adequately funding of our federal defender program," said Rep. Quigley. "Devastating cuts to this vital program abdicate our constitutional duty, degrade the integrity of our criminal justice system and erode one of the fundamental principles of American democracy." Before serving in elected office, Rep. Quigley worked as a criminal defense attorney in Cook County for 10 years.
Sequestration has forced federal defenders to cut their budgets by 10 percent. The resulting furloughs and layoffs are delaying criminal court proceedings, including for some of America's most high profile cases, such as the trial of Osama Bin Laden's son-in-law, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, and prosecution Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the suspect of the Boston Marathon bombings.
Sequestration cuts also increase costs to taxpayers. Because the Constitution requires the court to appoint counsel for indigent criminal defendants, the availability of fewer public defenders means the court must employ more costly private attorneys. Delays in criminal proceedings also mean defendants spend more time held in expensive pretrial detention facilities with increased tax dollars supporting overcrowded facilities.
"The federal defender program desperately needs adequate funding. We are especially grateful to Representatives Quigley and Bonamici for their leadership on this critical issue,"said Carol Brook, Executive Director of the Federal Defender Program in Chicago. "This letter reflects the broad support within Congress for fulfilling our Constitutional duty to provide equal access to justice as required by the Sixth Amendment."
In addition to Quigley and Bonamici, the letter was signed by 56 members of the U.S. Congress.