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A fundamental principal of our nation's criminal justice system is that regardless of financial status, whether wealthy or destitute, every accused person is entitled to the effective assistance of counsel. Despite over a decade of calls for reform by state courts, Mississippi is one of the few states that fail to meet its obligation to provide funding for attorneys representing the indigent criminally accused. As a result, Mississippi's counties have shouldered the responsibility of paying court-appointed counsel without financial contribution from the state. The state's eighty-two counties vary widely in wealth and resources. Some counties are able to provide reasonably adequate funding for indigent defense services, and even feature full-time, fully staffed public defender offices. Others, however, have maintained under-funded, part-time, court-appointed counsel systems. The resulting "patchwork" system of indigent defense practically ensures geographic disparities in the quality of counsel provided to poor Mississippians. Alternatively, a defendant's access to counsel or decent advocacy varies widely depending on the county in which he is charged. African Americans in Mississippi, as throughout the nation, are disproportionately among the poor and the criminally accused. Therefore, the state's failure to fund attorneys for the indigent accused acutely affects African Americans. The effects of the absence of meaningful advocacy for poor defendants reverberates widely and impacts African American families, neighborhoods, and communities.
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