In many places in the United States, the first option for legal counsel for someone charged in federal court would be a federal defender, someone who works full time for the government or a nonprofit representing indigent clients facing federal charges—in an office that, ideally, has the resources to fund a vigorous defense. But the Southern District of Georgia is one of three judicial districts, out of ninety-four, that do not have a defenders’ office (article available here).
(The District of the Northern Mariana Islands is not eligible for such an office; the Eastern District of Kentucky also does not have one.)
While other districts maintain strict standards for membership on their panels—experience in criminal litigation, enrollment in continuing legal-education courses—Georgia’s Southern District, for a long time, required anyone who practiced law in the area to be available for appointment.
Georgia’s Southern District encompasses forty-three counties and is roughly the size of West Virginia. Georgia’s Southern District actually created a federal public defender office in the late seventies, selecting a former U.S. Attorney to direct the office.
In late September, CNN published an investigation into the granting of “compassionate release” motions by federal judges during the pandemic, when many older inmates, in particular, argued that staying in prison could be tantamount to a death sentence. The report found that the granting of these motions varied enormously by district. The lowest approval rate in the country belonged to the Southern District of Georgia, where fewer than two per cent of compassionate-release motions were granted.