Inmates in Mississippi, innocent or guilty, often wait months on end without speaking to council.

Mississippi is one of only seven states in the U.S. that doesn’t provide funding to cover the costs of public defense. This means that most poor defendants throughout Mississippi rely on private attorneys who are paid a flat fee by the counties. These attorneys then take cases when the local courts assign them. According to the NAACP-LDF, with the exception of death penalty cases and felony appeals (since 2005), “the State of Mississippi does not contribute one dollar towards the representation of poor defendants. Instead, it requires counties to shoulder the full obligation of providing lawyers for the poor.”

Recently, a Mississippi judge made waves when he seemed unconcerned with constitutional rights during an interview with a reporter.

Circuit Court Judge Marcus D. Gordon acknowledges that under state law suspects have a right to an attorney as soon as an arrest warrant is issued, however he doesn’t hide the fact that he saves money by waiting to assign public defenders until suspects are formally indicted. This is problematic because in Mississippi there is no time limit for prosecutors to seek an indictment. Defendants regularly wait in jail for months without speaking to an attorney.

Gordon is now facing an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit for excessive pretrial detention and denial of counsel. He said that he understands the system is flawed, but that most criminal defendants were “con people” who probably deserved jail time.

When asked about the inmates who allegedly spent only 10 minutes with their public defender, and met their public defender for the first time a few days before trial, Gordon responded, “Are you believing the statements of the defendants? They will tell you anything you want to hear.”

The inmates had allegedly asked for public defenders and investigators told them that is was Gordon’s policy to wait until after they were indicted. Gordon says that, “When they prove that they are indigent, they cannot afford to hire a lawyer,” is when they will be afforded a lawyer. However his policy is such that they cannot prove they are indigent until the time of indictment. This is a problem when months pass between the arrest and the time of indictment. Inmates often spend months without speaking to counsel. However, Gordon didn’t seem to care. “Lady, people charged with crimes, they are criminals. And they say what meets their purpose.”

According to Al Jazeera, People are being held in jail not seeing a lawyer for months on end whether they are innocent or guilty. Gordon recognizes that this is his policy, not the policy of the State of Mississippi. When asked whether he was overseeing the process to make sure people’s rights weren’t being violated he said, “Go talk to the governor. Talk to the legislature. I do not have responsibility. I don’t have the time. And I don’t have the damn energy to do it all.”

What do you make of Judge Gordon? Are his actions justified? Let us know in the comments below!

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