Public Defenders in Georgia

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A new system of indigent defense is in place around Georgia, and public defenders say the program is going well, but despite the early optimism, some questions remain.

As anyone who's watched a television cop show can tell you, once you've been arrested you have the right to an attorney, and if you can't afford one, a lawyer can be appointed to your case.

For years, each Georgia county had its own way of appointing an attorney, but since January, 44 public defender’s offices have been up and running, assigning staff attorneys to each case.

Kent Edwards, a public defender for the southern district, says, "We started up on January 1st, as the law required, and we're almost up to full speed now. Right now our caseload is 300 cases, all since January 1."

County leaders who have to pay for this new program say it’s too early to tell if the program will be much of a benefit, especially when it comes to cost savings.

Paige Dukes, Lowndes County spokesperson, says, "The program has not been active long enough for us to be able to gather good info as far as financial numbers, so we're waiting to finish the year and then we'll take a look from there."

But public defenders say the program is a better bargain now and will continue to be in the future.

Kent Edwards adds, "We're staying within the budget numbers of 2003, even though we're handling more and more cases, and there will be more cases made each year in our circuit."

With growing caseloads, the only problem for local public defenders may be having enough attorneys on staff. Georgia's public defender system is more like Florida's, which features local public defender’s offices.