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Prof. Kelly Carmena appears on LPB’s Louisiana Public Square discussing Louisiana’s current public defense crisis

Carmena on LPB

Prof. Kelly Carmena is seated at far right, third from left.  East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore, SULC Class of 1989, is seated same row, second from left.

Prof. Kelly Carmena recently participated as an audience member in LPB’s Louisiana Public Square, which airs at 7 p.m., Wednesday, March 30, on WLPB-TV and WLAE in New Orleans.

The program, titled “Justice on Hold: Louisiana’s Public Defender Shortage,” focuses on the state’s current public defender crisis.  The segment will air again statewide on LPB at 11 a.m., Sunday, April 3. Also watch the show at: www.lpb.org/publicsquare.

If a person is accused of a crime in Louisiana, but cannot afford to hire an attorney, he/she is typically assigned a public defender paid for by the state. However, several public defender offices across the state argue that they don’t have the resources to keep up with the demand for court-appointed attorneys. Several parishes have been forced to make cuts and limit representation to only defendants who are currently incarcerated and facing felony charges.  Other parishes have placed defendants on waiting a list for legal representation, including those sitting in jail.

“We either pay now or we pay later. We either fund the system correctly, or ultimately the state is going to pay for these defendants to sit in jail while they await a court-appointed criminal defense attorney,” says Prof. Carmena.

“And the ultimate issue is whether the prosecutors can keep those accused of crimes in jail merely because funds are not available to give them a public defender.” She noted that while the state provides various funding back-up sources for district attorneys’ offices, there are no such resources for public defenders.

The issue of indigent defense has plagued Louisiana for a number of years, but appears to be coming to a head. Recently, the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana filed a lawsuit against Orleans Parish and the Louisiana Public Defender Board arguing that the lack of legal representation of the accused violates the Sixth Amendment right under the U.S. Constitution.

Carmena is an assistant professor of clinical legal education and manages the Law Center’s criminal clinic. Prior to joining the faculty, she worked with the East Baton Rouge Parish Office of Public Defender as a felony and misdemeanor assistant public defender. During her five-year term with the Public Defender’s Office, she served as lead counsel on a multitude of felony matters, including second-degree murder, aggravated and forcible rape, distribution charges and armed robbery, as well as numerous misdemeanor matters.

She is a frequent speaker on matters related to the administration of criminal justice and procedure.