The Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees every citizen facing criminal charges the right to a lawyer. But for decades, states, counties, and cities across the country have failed to live up to that promise. Instead, we have a system in which public defenders are underpaid and overworked, and defendants waste away in jail, waiting for a chance to meet with a lawyer.
The consequences can mean the difference between innocence and guilt, liberty and imprisonment, fairness and injustice — even life and death. And they’re playing out every day in America’s courtrooms and prisons.
In Broken Justice, a five-part original podcast from the PBS NewsHour, we take our audience inside America’s public defense system to explore what this failure means for both clients and lawyers. We focus on one state, Missouri, near the bottom of the pile in per-capita funding for indigent defense and near the top of the pile in its rate of incarceration. And we focus on one man, Ricky Kidd, sentenced to life in prison.
In 1996, Kidd was arrested for a double homicide in Kansas City. Kidd was confident he’d be found innocent, until he realized his court-appointed lawyer didn’t really have time or resources to defend his case. We hear from that public defender about how overwhelmed she was, and how she knows she failed her client. We follow Kidd’s years-long journey to have his case re-heard, and we hear from people working to reform this system today.