Becky Briggs ’04 is drawn to the unwinnable cases—the ones in which there’s no question of guilt, but it’s still her job to make sure an accused person has, as she puts it, “every protection allowed under the Constitution.”
In 2009, she moved out to rural Colo. to become a public defender. Now Briggs has her own solo practice, but most of her cases are still in public defense, contracted through the state. She says that many of her clients come from ultra-conservative communities and have received little education. They face substance abuse problems, unbroken cycles of poverty. Few can afford to post bail.
“I have always believed that no one should be put in a cage unless there truly is no other option,” she says. “But we put a lot of people in cages, and the conditions are absolutely horrifying in these small-town jails.”
Briggs spends a lot of time in her car. Where she works, towns are scattered and attorneys are few, so it isn’t unusual for her to drive more than five hours round-trip to a court hearing.
The long drives give her plenty of time to reflect, though. Cruising across the High Plains, she might recall when, at age 12, she read John Grisham’s A Time to Kill and decided to become a public defender. Or she might think back to her anthropology major at Bryn Mawr and how it offered the “holistic vision of the human experience” she was looking for.
She also might be bone-tired or unnerved, haunted by the things she’s seen and heard for so many years. “The longer I do this kind of work, the more scars I pick up,” Briggs says. “It becomes part of the job when you’re doing these very serious, very high-profile cases. It’s challenging and often heartbreaking work.”
To shed some of that stress, she becomes Tyrannosaurus Bex four or five times a week—a member of the Pikes Peak Derby Dames Slamazons roller derby team. “It’s the absolute best outlet,” she says, “and a fabulous female empowerment experience.”