MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - If you get arrested in Mississippi and can't afford a lawyer, don't expect your court appointed lawyer to do much to clear your name.
Mississippi is just one of a hand full of states without a statewide system of public defenders.
No state money means county taxpayers are picking up the tab for court appointed lawyers. Most counties don't have much cash to spend on people who break the law. But what if you were innocent?
"I think overall in Mississippi the system as a whole is failing the indigent and poor," said Butch Scipper, Quitman County Chancery Court Clerk.
Scipper knows just how bad it is. A decade ago the county sued the state because it couldn't afford to pay legal bills for the poor.
"These people tend not to get the justice they should get," he said.
Quitman County has two part-time public defenders who are paid a small salary to handle all cases. In Quitman County they handle 90 percent of all criminal cases. They are overworked and underpaid. Scipper admits public defenders don't spend much time on their client's cases.
According to a recent report, poor defendants in Mississippi often don't meet their court appointed lawyers until the day of trial, and cases aren't properly prepared or investigated. The accused languish in jail for years or are pressured into plea deals by their public defender, whether they are guilty or not.
Public defender Leslie Lee noted, "It could be financially beneficial if they plead all their cases."
Lee closely follows the injustices in the Mississippi justice system. She's been hired to try and create a statewide system of responsible public defenders.
Right now she is collecting data, trying to find out how much counties are spending on public defenders and how much it will cost the state to create a system similar to Tennessee.
"It's been slow going and we're making progress, but we do need to make a statewide system a reality," she said.
Right now some counties have public defenders on staff, others contract out the work. It's the judge who decides who gets the work; if you don't play ball with the judge you don't get any work.
"For him to be the sole hire and fire of public defenders is a very dangerous thing; it makes the whole system look tainted."
"Your perception of the law is you want it to be fair and impartial and right now i don't think that is the perception."
Lawmakers will have to approve spending the money to get a statewide system up and running, but Lee says, "Let's get it right the first time, then we don't have to worry about everyone else accusing us to the 50th in everything."
Truth is getting lawmakers to pay for the statewide system won't be easy but those who've been watching the situation for years say it's long overdue.