The stories of unacceptable representation in capital cases are now widely known, but such representation is not limited to capital cases. Economics plays no small part in this. In North Carolina, attorneys paid by the State’s Office of Indigent Defense Services make substantially less money than private attorneys, making the work less attractive for attorneys with a lot of experience who can charge more for that experience. Thus, while many attorneys paid by the State are highly skilled, the indigent are more at risk than the general population to have counsel who is less experienced. Similarly, public defender offices are often under-funded, leading to high caseloads that make adequate trial preparation and investigation more difficult. Under these circumstances, the pressure to encourage inappropriate guilty pleas can rise.
Increasing funding to the offices of public defenders will allow for increased training and investigative support. Increasing the fee rate of court-appointed attorneys will attract more experienced attorneys. Lowering the burden of proof in claims of ineffective assistance of counsel will correlate to a higher standard of practice which will ensure a proper defense is available even to the poor.