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This content was orginally published in the introduction of the 2015 NAPD Annual Report.
Public defense is an all-day, every-day mission. The National Association for Public Defense (NAPD) does nothing else – all day, every day: public defense. Ours is a practitioner-led movement, more than 12,500 strong. Nearly every single one of our members is directly involved in the delivery of public defense services; our leadership body reflects the diversity of advocates doing this work; the client directly influences the work product of the organization. NAPD exists to facilitate the vibrant exchange of ideas and resources among the advocates who are essential to both delivering public defense service and bringing reform to a broken justice system. With members in all 50 states and U.S. territories, NAPD is an organization with its boots on the ground and its finger on the pulse of criminal justice in America.
All day, every day, in jails, courts and communities across the country, public defender advocates fight for their clients. NAPD’s exclusive focus on public defense does not mean the fight is restricted to courtroom struggles. This annual report chronicles the incredible scope of advocacy services public defenders provide, and the amazing impact that the public defense function has on individual lives and the community at-large. In a year dominated by criminal justice news and sustained community mobilization to address injustice, public defenders are at the very center of America’s increasingly public confrontation with racial prejudice, poverty, and the deeply dehumanizing experience of mass-incarceration.
Criminal justice events dominated public consciousness throughout 2015. The criminal cases against the officers who killed Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray and many others proceeded to dissatisfying conclusions, with prosecutors showing unconcealed protection for the police on trial. The suicide of Kaleif Browder after two years of isolation at Rikers Island, the suspicious death of Sandra Bland in a Texas jail, the arrest of 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed for his science project clock, and countless other incidents elevated public outrage about the treatment of millions of people in contact under the control of the justice system. Baltimore rioted. Charleston lost nine of its own in a racially motivated execution in a church, and it brought down the Confederate flag. The Supreme Court considered the cruelty and unusualness of lethal injection, and James Holmes was spared the death penalty. The entire Orange County District Attorney’s Office was removed from prosecuting an active capital case due to grave ethical breaches. Candidates running for public offices from city council to the Presidency carefully talked about – and carefully avoided talking about – the very significant problems in America’s justice system. Public defenders are right in the middle of all of it.
NAPD’s vision of public defense – the brand of public defense aspired to by our 12,500 members – is defined by the client. The criminal justice system has swelled to ensnare so many people, and its effects have proven so catastrophic, that public defenders not only fight for their client’s rights and liberty in criminal cases, but also assail against racial profiling, police brutality, debtor’s prisons, and prosecutorial misconduct. They fight for independence from political interference and for the civil rights and social needs of their clients. And they shine a bright light on the elephant in the room: the incredible hardship that is poverty itself
Public defenders have a unique power and potential to bring justice to a broken justice system. NAPD is proud to highlight the talent and innovation occurring in jurisdictions throughout the country, and to unite the community in our common cause of justice. Historically isolated, defenders throughout the country – thanks to this growing community NAPD is helping to build – are increasingly able to learn from each other, share resources, cooperate to provide the best defense for their clients, offer solutions, and lead the reform movement.