Gideon v. Wainwright
, a landmark ruling guaranteeing the right to counsel for defendants who can't afford an attorney. But public defense for the indigent in Louisiana — which relies on fines and fees to fund its public defenders — has been at the center of a "constitutional crisis
" in which caseloads overwhelm under-funded and under-staffed offices, halting many cases altogether while the state struggles with a perpetual budget mess. A recent lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center
takes aim at the state's public defense services.
"Without adequate representation, there is no justice," New Orleans Chief Defender Derwyn Bunton said in a statement. "Our entire system fails and poor people are the ones hurt the most.”
New Orleans, appropriately, will host the first event in a planned series of national concerts to raise awareness of the right to counsel and the crises faced by public defenders offices nationwide. The New Orleans installment of Concerts for Indigent Defense
features the Original Pinettes Brass Band, Zena Moses and Rue Fiya, Junko Beat (also featuring Orleans Public Defender Will Snowden), Caren Green, Mystic Beez, Casme, Britney Chaunte, Dedrick West, K.Levy, Justin Parker and others. In conjunction with the anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright
, the concert begins 5 p.m. Saturday, March 18 at WonderLand Production Studios (3233 St. Bernard Ave.). The concert also will be streamed on its website
"The Supreme Court says you have a fundamental constitutional right to have a lawyer, and yet state after state, if you're poor and accused of a crime, you often don't have access to a decent lawyer at all," says event founder Stephen Saloom. "If you do, it’s not in a timely fashion. When they represent you they are often overwhelmed by a caseload that nobody thinks is appropriate."
March 18 is the 54th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in