“You have the right to an attorney.”
Those words are intimately familiar to most Americans from TV and film, even if we’ve never had the occasion to use a public defender. But as John Oliver points out, the overburdened U.S. judicial system has done a disservice to the 60-90 percent of arrested citizens who can’t afford their own lawyer. Some public defenders work 1,000 felonies per year, and others have an average of seven minutes to prepare for each case. Even when a poor person can afford an attorney—which is no longer a given—what level of representation are they truly getting?
It all leads to a system of near-automatic plea bargains, which has a way of muting the actual guilt or innocence of the subject, and encouraging more aggressive policing and unfair sentencing.
John Oliver is probably our last source for terrific TV journalism disguised as comedy, now that Stewart and Colbert have left Comedy Central, and he’s more than up to the task of exposing this national nightmare. He even brings a few celebrity pals along to create a new, more appropriate Miranda warning for our times. Check out Oliver, Dennis Quaid, Josh Lucas, Sonja Sohn, Regina King, and Jeremy Sisto in the video above as they take on one of America’s most broken institutions.