October 11, 2023

Wyden, Colleagues Urge Corrections to Proposed Federal Defenders’ Budget

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Ron Wyden said today that he and Senate colleagues are urging that adequate funding be provided for Defender Services in both Congressional chambers’ Financial Services and General Government legislation.

“Federal Public and Community Defenders are fundamental to the function of federal courts across the country. To preserve the operation of our justice system, we urge you to pass funding for Defender Services that is at a minimum $108 million higher than the House mark and $136 million more than the Senate mark in the Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2024 […] Without addressing this gap in funding, Federal Defenders have estimated that funding at the current House or Senate marks would, conservatively, result in a 9-12% reduction in their current workforce,” Wyden and colleagues wrote to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Nearly 9 in 10 individuals charged with a federal crime cannot afford legal representation and thus are constitutionally entitled to appointed counsel. If there is a shortage in public defenders, the court must refer more cases to private attorneys on the Criminal Justice Act panel. Sending excess cases to the panel often incurs higher costs which can lead to a decrease in the Federal Defender budget and may increase costs on the federal judiciary -- paradoxically costing the federal government more.

“Congress should follow through on its Constitutional responsibility to adequately fund federal public defense,” the senators concluded.

The letter was led by U.S. Senators Peter Welch, D-Vt., Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., Cory Booker, D-N.J., Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii. Alongside Wyden, the letter was signed by U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Tina Smith, D-Minn., Alex Padilla, D-Calif., Rev. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Tim Kaine, D-Va., Chris Coons, D-Del., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., Ed Markey, D-Mass., Ben Cardin, D-Md. Bob Casey, D-Pa., Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii.??

The text of the letter is here.