Idaho has had over half a century to comply with the Constitution’s guarantees of real justice in criminal court. It has had more than half a century since the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Gideon v. Wainwright to ensure that the “vast sums of money” that state governments spend to prosecute those accused of crimes are balanced by an equally zealous commitment to protect individual liberty and defend the presumption of innocence.
In 2010, the State’s Criminal Justice Commission authorized the National Legal Aid and Defender Association to conduct a study of Idaho’s public defense system. The NLADA came back with a report that put the State on clear notice that Idaho “fails to provide the level of representation required by our Constitution for those who cannot afford counsel in its criminal and juvenile courts.”
All of Idaho suffers while this unjust system rolls on. The ACLU of Idaho hears daily from the many victims of it: the communities of color whose youth are snatched from their schools to be held in jail on charges, the ailing mothers and fathers whose sons and daughters cannot care for them while locked away awaiting trial, and the children whose parents’ sentences in turn sentence the next generation to poverty and uncertainty. Our job, together with all of the public defenders throughout our state, is an epic one.