Defendants are not receiving the representation they need. For instance, Helen Ligett, a federal public defender in Texas, not only had to travel 164 miles each way to attend a client's arraignment and meeting with the probation office, but she paid the travel expenses herself. What's more, her office no longer has an investigator, and as Ligett says, "I still haven't figured out how a lawyer can represent a criminal defendant without investigating the case." Impacts like that are widespread throughout the public defense system, are only getting worse, and are actually costing more money:
The public defender system hasn't just been stripped bare by sequestration, its bones have been chiseled away as well. There has been a 9 percent reduction in the roughly $1 billion budget for federal public defender's offices, while federal defenders in more than 20 states are planning to close offices. Careers have been ended and cases have been delayed. All of it has occurred in the name of deficit reduction—and yet, for all the belt-tightening being demanded of the nation's public defenders, money is not actually being saved.Such is the special genius of sequestration and widespread budget cuts more generally. There's less justice in our justice system, lawyers and investigators who have spent their careers protecting the rights of defendants who can't afford to pay for a defense lose their jobs or suffer massive furloughs, and the whole thing costs more in the end.
When federal public defenders aren’t able to take a case because of a conflict, or because their workload is too great, the job falls to private court-appointed attorneys known as Criminal Justice Act panel attorneys. Those lawyers are paid from the same pool of money as federal public defenders, but they cost much more and, according to some studies, are less effective.
To keep the budget from completely exploding, the Judicial Conference, a group of senior circuit judges that helps administer guidelines for the courts, could—indeed, may have to—reduce the rates paid to private attorneys, but that could mean fewer CJA lawyers would be willing to take up such cases. That, in turn, would result in the accused spending more time in prison waiting for trials—only further driving up costs.