Published on: Monday, August 14, 2023

With the federal legal support system potentially millions of dollars short due to budget cuts, Kansas’ federal public defender pleaded with U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran to intervene before vulnerable Kansans needing representation begin to suffer (article available here).

The U.S. federal public defender system provides legal representation for criminal defendants who cannot afford legal fees. That requirement has been in place since 1963, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states are required to provide attorneys for people facing felony charges who couldn’t afford counsel.

Because of underfunding by Congress for the 2024 fiscal year, the office could fall between 3% to 5% short of its budget needs, forcing staff cuts and leaving the poorest Americans without constitutionally mandated protections. 

The cut would harm the already short-staffed system on national and local levels, leading to the loss of about 500 positions and marking a 12% decrease in the roughly 4,100 employees of the Federal Public and Community Defenders. The limited budget appropriations have already led to a national hiring freeze across. 

“This shortfall will cripple our program, it will cost more than it will save, and it will have a cascading impact of delay and disruption within the criminal legal system,” Melody Brannon, the top federal defender in Kansas said.