Although they don’t always grab national headlines, problems within America’s state courts can have profound effects on our country’s democracy.
In New Orleans, a funding shortfall recently prompted the city’s top public defender, Derwyn Bunton, to announce that his office was refusing new cases – a move that effectively deprived defendants their of a constitutional right to counsel. His decision, which we explored in a recent episode, garnered national attention in the form of two lawsuits: One by the ACLU, another by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Meanwhile, voters in New Mexico passed a measure to reform the state’s bail procedures, which had forced indigent defendants to stay in jail because they couldn’t post even small bond amounts. New Mexico In Depth and Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting wrote about Tom Chudzinski, a semiretired architect who was apprehended on suspicion of drunken driving. Chudzinski spent 34 days in jail after he was unable to post $50 bond. His charges were eventually dropped, but it was too little, too late: Without enough money to recover his impounded motor home, Chudzinski ended up in an Albuquerque, New Mexico, homeless shelter.
The problems abound. In New Jersey, Rodney Roberts agreed to plead guilty to a crime he didn’t commit rather than risk a jury trial. Tennessee Watson tried – and failed – to put a man who sexually abused her when she was a child behind bars. Multiple judges across Louisiana have been disciplined for actions such as failing to recuse themselves from trials, ignoring financial reporting requirements and even taking gifts from lawyers who handled cases before them.
We’ve been investigating problems in America’s state courts over the past year, and we want to encourage you to share your own favorite reporting with us using the hashtag #JusticeForSome. We’ll amplify your stories on our Facebook and Twitter accounts, and collect them here in this post.