Why We Exist

The Office of Public Defender was established in 1971 in response to landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions interpreting and implementing both Federal and State law plus the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and the Michigan Constitution of 1963, Art. 1, Sec. 20, Michigan Court Rules 5.915, 6.005, 6.905, 6.610 and Michigan Compiled Laws 775.16.

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Although our criminal justice system is one of the best in the world today, it has deficiencies because imperfect human beings are the ones who must make it work. Some of the defects are corrupt or inaccurate scientific evidence, the abuse of authority by officials who are in positions of power, sheer human error, false testimony, false confessions (particularly from the mentally ill and/or intellectually disabled), false memories, false perceptions and conscious or subconscious biasness. Exacerbating conditions always is the usual disproportionate allocation of resources to law enforcement while underfunding the defense.

The consequence of these inadequacies in the criminal justice system is that innocent persons can be charged and convicted. This results in the double tragedy of an innocent person being undeservedly punished while the guilty completely escape penalty and continue to abuse, harm and endanger our community.

Many persons charged with crimes have been disadvantaged in their lives by poverty, dysfunctional families, child abuse and neglect, drug and alcohol addictions, illiteracy, significant mental and/or physical challenges, and the damage done by generations of discrimination and legally institutionalized denial to some of the ability to fully participate in society. When charged with a crime, these persons are often powerless when the government brings its enormous powers to bear to seek conviction. Thus, there has to be some check and balance in the best interests of all of us.

For local persons who are also indigent or partially indigent, the organization that exists to enforce their constitutional guarantees, protect them against the possibility of coerced confessions, double jeopardy, unreasonable searches, unfair treatment, unjust convictions and from being overwhelmed by the sheer weight that law enforcement and the prosecution can bring to bear, is the Office of the Washtenaw County Public Defender.

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