Criminal Justice

Chief public defender: Vote tomorrow for judges willing to back sentencing reform

Chief Defender Derwyn Bunton


New Orleans Public Defender Derwyn Bunton

Judicial elections present an opportunity to change Louisiana’s status as the world’s leader in incarceration. Decades of “tough on crime” policies at the state and national levels have left us with overcrowded prisons and expensive prison bills.

While a much-needed conversation about sentencing reform and ending mass incarceration is finally happening at the state level, the results have yet to follow.

Fortunately, we can do more than wait.

The hundreds of cases processed each day at Criminal District, Municipal and Juvenile courts, have repercussions not just for the defendants, but for everyone in the community, our safety and the use of our tax dollars. Though public perception has come around, tough-on-crime rhetoric can still win elections over fairness. The judges we elect to these courts are the custodians of all our best interests. It is up to the voters to ensure judges hear the right message.

The Orleans Public Defenders (OPD) represent over 85 percent of individuals charged with a crime in Orleans Parish. All of them are poor and disadvantaged and most of them face prosecution for nonviolent offenses involving no victims.

OPD attorneys and staff do all we can on a limited budget to protect the constitutional rights of our clients.  We continue to identify alternatives to incarceration that transform our clients into productive citizens outside the turnstiles of the criminal justice system.  We fight for liberty for the innocent and for sentences that fit the crime, asking judges not to sentence poor, illiterate, nonviolent drug abusers to 20 years in prison.

We need your help.  We need you to be vigilant over the courtrooms. They belong to the citizens of New Orleans, not to any one individual.  We need voters to let it be known that they want decency and fairness in the treatment of their fellow citizens and law upheld.

We need New Orleanians to pay attention and vote for the judicial candidates who best represent their idea of justice and fairness. Our criminal justice system must be held accountable if we are to see any reform of misguided and antiquated policies.

Derwyn Bunton is the Chief District Defender of Orleans Parish. He can be reached at

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  • Justice Colorado

    According to the Sixth Amendment you have a right for effective representation (search under conflict free counsel). According to NPR and anyone who has ever signed anything with a public defender, public defenders simply don’t work. The reason is that the Bar Association is self regulating and the courts aspire to increase litigation costs as much as possible with as little commitment to justice as possible. Before you sign anything read the introduction to the Rules of Professional Conduct in the NexisLexis court book at the Supreme Court library. In Colorado the language suggests that the ultimate accountable person in the world who has the most trust from his people is Kim Jong Un. I doubt that it is legal, but you’ll be signing way more than an innocent looking contract. I believe that with nothing more than the Sixth Amendment and the NPR articles you should be able to get attention at higher courts. Most likely, they will adulterate the law further to prevent any corrections – but if you’ve already been exploited by a public defender it shouldn’t cost more than $500 to try – and you can also ask this fee to be waved. Sign this petition

  • nickelndime

    I am wary of NPR and the judicial system. Any more suggestions? And one more thing. I am wary of petitions that I don’t develop,