Messaging for Judges

Judge Bernice Donald , Judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, Committee Chair American Bar Association, Criminal Justice Section

Judge Bernice Donald, Judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, Committee Chair American Bar Association, Criminal Justice Section

Key Messages

  • Fairness requires that all accused persons have access to competent legal attorney to represent them.

  • Providing competent legal representation is necessary to prevent innocent people from going to jail.

  • Guaranteeing that every person accused of a crime has the right to a lawyer is a fundamental American right that is written into our Constitution.

  • The quality of justice a person received should not be determined by how much money that person has.

  • A lack of funding in many places has resulted in people accused of minor crimes waiting in jail as long as six months to have a lawyer assigned to them and a hearing held.

The judges react favorably to every message presented to them: those emphasizing fairness, protecting the innocent from unjust incarceration, the Constitution, and equal justice. Most even endorse messages critical of courts that overburden public defenders with too many cases and allow people to languish in jails because of a lack of public defenders. However, their strongest recommendation for a message that they would take to the public and lawmakers to win support for spending more money on public defense would have the following components:

  • Practicality: Quality public defense will save money in the long run because governments will not have to pay for so many people in jail.

  • Fairness: Everyone benefits from making the system fairer, and you never know when you or someone you care about will be in a situation where you need a good public defender.

  • Responsibility: Right now, there are human tragedies caused by the lack of quality public defense. We have a duty to fix this.