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John Oliver talks public defenders on Last Week Tonight

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HBO

John Oliver is as upset about Atticus Finch as the rest of us — but he’s even more peeved by the state of our public defense system.

On Sunday’s Last Week Tonight, Oliver addressed the issues facing both public defenders and the people who need them. The host pointed out that the right to an attorney — which has only been ensured since 1963 — rarely guarantees equal protection under the law, especially since so many of those attorneys are overburdened. In New Orleans, for one, some public defenders can only spend an average of seven minutes on each case.

“If I only had seven minutes to prepare this show,” says Oliver, “I definitely would not be talking about public defenders right now. I’d be desperately trying to fill time by listing the Muppets in order of f—ability.”

And as the host notes, 90-95 percent of those cases end in plea bargain, which should cut a lot of time off of the average Law & Order episode — because while some defenders take their jobs so seriously as to tattoo the names of their lost cases on their backs, not all are so upstanding. 

Oliver goes on to highlight specific victims of the system, then rewrites the Miranda warning to reflect reality, complete with roach-infested offices, judges who physically fight public defenders for doing their jobs, and defenders whose services aren’t as free as the law suggests.

That all happened, and “of course it was Florida; how could it not be Florida?”

HBO

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