In the South Bronx, a community known for high arrest and poverty rates, public defenders often have more than 100 open case files, each file representing a person in need. The attorneys must make difficult decisions about which clients to help first and which ones must wait, knowing that postponed cases could result in a lost job, eviction from home, or even deportation for a client.
These attorneys cut against the stereotype of the lazy, under-trained Public Defender. They hope to affect real change. They must negotiate everyday between clients’ needs and the larger crusade against injustice, at times advising clients to plead guilty despite claims of innocence, to settle the case instead of fighting the charge.
The daily compromises and the endless flow of new clients weigh heavy on the attorneys. They feel guilt for not doing enough for their clients, and frustration at the futility of fighting a flawed system. You Have the Right to an Attorney watches their attempt to persevere, one case at a time.
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Matt Bockelman is a New York-based cinematographer and director. His most recent projects include The Unofficial House Band, Communitas, and Meet the Gardeners. Matt founded Fly’s Eye Films in 2010 with the goal of creating substantive documentaries, objectively rendered and with a strong visual aesthetic.