Friday, August 5, 2011

AG asks Black Journalists to keep focusing on indigent defense deficiencies

Addressing the annual convention of the National Association of Black Journalists, on August 4, 2011, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder highlighted the Department of Justice’s recent successes, while also calling upon reporters to keep looking at deficiencies in the delivery of right to counsel services.  

10:53 AM
Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Gideon Alert: NACDL report exposes Florida’s “no counsel” courts

“Supreme Court Justices rarely consider appeals of misdemeanor convictions.  Nearly a half-million misdemeanor cases are filed in Florida’s county courts every year, and the vast majority of those cases are resolved by a plea of guilty, often in a matter of minutes.  Advice of rights by the courts and the assistance of lawyers for the defendants, whether they can afford them or not, are exceptions, not the rule.  It is as if our criminal and traffic courts operate as 'constitution-free zones,' outside the law.” -- Gerald Kogan, former Florida Chief Justice

3:16 PM
Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Update on New York state's struggles to meet Gideon's promise

On August 2, 2011, the Gotham Gazette provided a lengthy update on the state of New York’s ongoing struggle to provide a meaningful right to counsel for those otherwise unable to afford it.  The New York Civil Liberties Union class action lawsuit against the state, now in the discovery phase, continues to pressure policymakers to find a permanent resolution to the state’s severe, chronic challenges in meeting its 6th Amendment obligations.  Meanwhile, the newly established Office of Indigent Legal Services saw its initial $3 million budget cut in half, limiting its ability to aid county-based service providers in meeting foundational standards.  With progress slow, the Gazette provides a helpful round-up on where efforts currently stand, and where New York policymakers may look next in order to make larger strides towards constitutional compliance.

2:31 PM
Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Justice Policy Institute releases report on the Right to Counsel

The Justice Policy Institute has released a report linking states' struggles to provide effective right to counsel services with excessive corrections costs.  The report, System Overload: The Costs of Under-Resourcing Public Defense, highlights the impact of overwhelmed public defense systems and "how the busting-at-the-seams systems affect state and county budgets, the lives of those behind bars, the impact on their families, and the challenges of re-entering communities after serving time."

2:27 PM
Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Gideon Alert: Connecticut backslides on right to counsel

Like indigent defense systems throughout the country, Connecticut has recently had to let go forty-two public defender employees, including 23 lawyers, and is planning to eliminate 33 more positions, as reported in  the July 21, 2011 Boston Globe.  This is the result of what the Globe summarized as “a funding crisis for the nation’s judicial systems,” while government officials and state employee unions in Connecticut battle for power over the too few remaining dollars (see the June 30, 2011 New York Times).  The difference between Connecticut and other states where similar lay-offs are occurring is that Connecticut’s right to counsel system has been closer than most states to fulfilling the promises of the Sixth Amendment.
9:46 AM
Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Gideon Alert: Washington State lawsuit exposes non-representation in municipal courts

On June 10, 2011, a class action lawsuit was filed in the Superior Court of Skagit County, Washington, by the law firm of Terrell Marshall Daudt & Willie PLLC and The Scott Law Group P.S., as reported in the June 20 Seattle Times.  The suit alleges that the cities of Mount Vernon and Burlington have breached their constitutional duties to operate a public defense system that provides effective assistance of counsel to indigent persons charged with crimes in their municipal courts. The complaint alleges that the defendants failed to: a) impose caseloads restrictions on public defenders; b) “monitor and oversee the public defense system;” c) “provide adequate funds for public defense;” and, d) “provide representation at all critical stages of the prosecution;” among others.   The cities’ failures, the complaint contends, have resulted in a constructive denial of the right to counsel under Gideon v. Wainwright.  The lawsuit asks for injunctive and declaratory relief to prevent further violations and to protect the constitutional rights of all indigent persons charged with crimes in the municipal courts of Mount Vernon and Burlington. Or, as co-lead attorney Matthew Zuchetto states in the plaintiffs’ press release,“[a]t the end of the day, our clients are simply asking for one thing: to fix the system."

1:19 PM