In Gideon v. Wainwright (1963), the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution requires the states to provide defense attorneys to criminal defendants charged with serious offenses who cannot afford lawyers themselves. The case began with the 1961 arrest of Clarence Earl Gideon who wrote the petition to the Supreme Court himself, on a legal pad from inside the jail.
As public interest attorneys, we believe our mission only begins in the courtroom. The Montgomery County Public Defender Office is developing programs in an effort to provide a holistic approach to the extra-legal concerns of our clients. Our goal is to improve overall outcomes for our clients in order to ameliorate the conditions that lead to involvement in the justice system and ultimately to reduce recidivism.
What They Do
- Protecting the rights of individuals accused of violating the law
- Run a prison liaison program
- Juvenile advocacy
- Community engagement
- Support the Participatory Defense Initiative
- Heads Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC) group
- Expungement of criminal records
The needs of clients vary, but often include help with housing, educational support, family counseling, mental health services, and trauma recovery. The social work unit of the MCPD helps the client find programs, referrals, and other opportunities to address these needs. The MCPD is funded by the county and its services are offered free to anyone who has committed a crime and whose income is below 150% of the poverty line.
The MCPD also has a major focus on community engagement. One of those key engagement areas is the Participatory Defense Initiative. Held every Monday and Thursday from 6pm to 8pm (visit website for location details), MCPD partners with community volunteers to provide family members with support and training on how they can help their loved ones through the legal process. This includes everything from identifying witnesses to ways to reduce bail, helping them to become true advocates for their incarcerated relatives.
Additionally, The MCPD heads a Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC) form. It addresses specific issues with minority groups in the community to limit their run-ins with law enforcement.
One of the broader focuses of the MCPD is working to end cash bail which is a major issue facing the entire criminal justice system, and Montgomery County is no different.
“What makes people successful are jobs, housing and family support” says Chief Public Defender Dean Beer. “When you go to jail because you can’t afford bail, you can lose your job, your housing and your family when your children have to be taken care of by someone else. You lose the most important things that keep your life on track because you can’t afford the bail.”
“We see major cases with $200,000 and $1,000,000 bails on the news all the time, but what you don’t see are the people who get picked up for retail theft of a $50 item and end up having a $1,000 bail. The goal of ours, in terms of community engagement, is to get the issue of cash bail reform out to people and let them know that this is an injustice you see not just in Montgomery County, but across the country” says Chief Beer.
To take client assistance to another level, The MCPD has recently hired a new Americorps Vista (Volunteer In Service To America) Member to create in-house programs that help individuals with re-entry after serving time.
“We want to do everything we can for our clients to have a successful and positive re-entry back into the community” Chief Beer states
Work at the Montgomery County Public Defender’s Office is difficult. Dealing with tough issues such as sexual assault, domestic abuse, trauma, mental illness, and addiction takes a toll. However, the reward of helping people in the community get back on their feet and improve lives inspires everyone in the office.
“If you are coming into this work, it’s because you want to help people.” Chief Hudson says.