COSTS: Lack of Adequate Funding Causing Shortage of Death Penalty Attorneys in Louisiana

In Louisiana, a lack of adequate funding for indigent defense in death penalty cases is causing a critical shortage of qualified counsel and long delays in cases.  John Di Giulio, a member of the Louisiana Public Defender Board, said that public defenders and regional offices that represent death penalty clients are “overworked and underfunded.” Mike Mitchell, chief public defender of the East Baton Rouge Public Defender’s office, attributed the shortage of lawyers to the demanding nature of death penalty trials. He said, “It’s tough work. A lot of attorneys steer away from it. Historically it’s been tough work for little pay.”  He estimated that representing one capital murder case can cost his office a minimum of $100,000, which does not include fees for expert witnesses and investigation.  In many cases, the prosecution has more resources. The state Department of Public Safety and Corrections has spent $8 million so far on the prosecution and defense of the "Angola 5," inmates at Angola charged with killing a security officer at the prison.  By comparison, the state's Capital Assistance Project, has a total annual budget of about $1 million.  Mitchell predicts that the shortage of death penalty-certified attorneys and the lack of funding for capital defense will further delay death-penalty cases, which already take years to come to trial. Louisiana has carried out two executions in the last 10 years.  Pete Adams, the head of the district attorneys association, said that if local public defender offices stop taking new capital murder cases, “it would squarely place the cost of capital defense in the lap of the Legislature.”

(J. Gyan, "Defenders dwindling, death penalty cases face delays," The Advocate, June 19, 2012).  See Representation.  Listen to our podcast on Representation.