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In Maryland, public defenders bear uneven burden

December 17th, 2016 by WCBC Radio

In Maryland, the county you are charged in may determine the quality of representation you receive from your public defender, according to legal experts and public defenders.

Throughout the state's suburban and rural areas, public defenders grouped into 12 districts are juggling many more clients than legal experts say they can effectively represent. While the state has set non-binding caseload limits for each region, certain districts exceed these standards far more than others.

As a result, indigent defendants in those jurisdictions run a higher risk of receiving ineffective counsel, legal experts and public defenders say. This creates an unequal justice system, with some clients enjoying a higher quality of representation than others.

 

"This is an ongoing problem," said Delegate Kathleen Dumais, vice chair of the House Judiciary Committee. "Some counties have fewer public defenders, and as a result their caseloads can be difficult because they may be handling more than they should."

The caseload standards, which the state adopted in 2005, aim to ensure effective counsel and vary according to region (urban, rural or suburban). Though every Office of the Public Defender district struggles to keep attorney caseloads below their respective limits, some exceed their targeted numbers by a greater rate than others, according to statistics published by the public defender's office.

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