Public Opinion Poll
On October 2, 2006, LJC released findings of a statewide poll of voters’ views on the state’s indigent defense system. The poll found that Louisiana voters believe the justice system favors the rich, recognize that the system cannot meet the needs for providing defense attorneys to the poor, and support reforms to improve the system.
The survey, “Unequal Justice in Louisiana: Louisiana Voters Consider their Public Defender System,” indicates that nearly seven in ten voters believe the system favors wealthy defendants. More than 90 percent of Louisiana voters believe that access to justice should not depend on how much money a person has. When voters were told that a man in Calcasieu waited for more than 18 months before seeing an attorney, 82 percent of voters say that this is a serious problem that must be addressed immediately.
“The state is failing to uphold its constitutional obligation to provide effective counsel to low-income defendants. The outcome of a case should not be based on whether the defendant is rich or poor. By shortchanging the public defenders, the state has created two brands of justice - one for the 10 percent of defendants who are able to hire private attorneys and one for the vast majority who cannot,” said Heather H. Hall, LJC Director.
These are among key findings of a new survey of public attitudes toward the legal system in Louisiana. The survey was commissioned by the Louisiana Justice Coalition, a statewide organization that promotes the creation of a public defense system in Louisiana that complies with the American Bar Association’s national standards. The random sample survey of 609 registered voters was conducted by Belden Russonello & Stewart. Telephone interviews were conducted July 17 to 28, 2006. The margin of sampling error for the survey is plus or minus 4.0 percentage points.
The survey shows that Louisiana voters strongly value fairness and believe that Louisiana’s criminal justice system should be rooted in this value. Accordingly, large majorities of voters support reforms to restore fairness to the system, including statewide standards for resources available to public defenders (88 percent), a statewide oversight board (84 percent), and caseload restrictions for public defenders (82 percent).
“This survey proves that Louisiana voters want a better system of justice, one that ensures people are judged on the merits of their case, not the amount of money that they have,” said Kathleen Hawk Norman, Board of Directors, Innocence Project New Orleans.
Between 2004-2006, more than 40 newspaper editorials and news stories from around the world have highlighted the mounting crisis in Louisiana’s indigent defense system.
The LJC Public Opinion Poll is available HERE