Vanessa Gregory

Vanessa Gregory is a writer based in Oxford, Mississippi, and a 2010 Middlebury fellow in environmental journalism.

Recent Articles

Indefensible

Five decades after a landmark Supreme Court case establishing the right to a public-defense lawyer, the poor still lack adequate legal representation.

June Hardwick has been brainstorming with a black marker on poster-size papers covering her office wall. The Jackson, Mississippi, assistant public defender is reviewing the facts -- and possible defense arguments -- in a client's statutory rape case. "No rape kit," reads a bullet point. "No panties," reads another. She has stacked and sorted her indicted cases on the floor beneath the papers; each folder represents a person too poor to hire a private attorney. On top of the last pile sits a note on which Hardwick has scrawled "need to visit." That Hardwick plans to see clients in jail shouldn't be remarkable. But court-appointed lawyers who don't meet -- or even talk to -- clients until the eve of trial are one symptom of a crumbling public-defense system that critics say fails clients, communities, taxpayers, and the Constitution. In the worst instances of substandard legal defense, the innocent lose liberty. More commonly, a poor person serves extra time when robust counsel might...