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Robert Gehrke: Utah is not living up to the Constitution and failing poor people accused of crimes

There’s a phrase engraved on the front of the U.S. Supreme Court — “Equal justice under law.” That is the distilled essence of our justice system, a declaration — aspirational to be sure — that laws will be applied equitably, regardless of race, gender or economic background.

The same is supposed to be true of geography. Someone accused of a crime in one jurisdiction should be treated the same as someone charged under the same law in another.

But in Utah, we have two justice systems or, really, to be more accurate, 29 individual justice systems. That’s because every county runs its own public defender program to provide a legal defense to those who can’t afford it.