The Public Voice of the Defender
75 Alabama Law Review (forthcoming 2023)
68 Pages Posted: 27 Apr 2023
Date Written: April 2, 2023
For decades police and prosecutors have controlled the public narrative about criminal law—littering the news landscape with salacious stories of violent crimes while ignoring the more mundane but far more prevalent minor cases that clog the court dockets. Defenders, faced with overwhelming caseloads and fear that speaking out may harm their clients, have largely ceded the opportunity to offer a counternarrative based on what they see every day. Defenders tell each other about overuse of pretrial detention, intensive pressure to plead guilty, overzealous prosecutors, cycles of violence, and rampant constitutional violations— all of which inflict severe harm on defendants and their loved ones. But defenders rarely show the public the world they inhabit.
That approach hasn’t stopped the carceral state from ballooning over the past fifty years; public defense budgets remain paltry, and clients suffer from too much law and too little justice in a system that disregards and dehumanizes them. This Article encourages defenders to go on the offensive, to seek transformative change toward a more just legal system. It builds on the social media literature to analyze how defenders can strategically use social networking sites to add their expertise to ongoing public debates about crime and criminal justice policy. As a few existing efforts suggest, social media enables defenders to widely share the routine injustices they observe and to engage with local grassroots organizations to build coalitions. Defenders’ strategic use of social media won’t change policies overnight, but we are hopeful that it will augment public support for defenders and their clients and build power to transform the criminal legal landscape over decades.
Keywords: public defenders, indigent defense, social media, collective action, criminal legal system, social change
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