Lawsuit Filed Over Indigent Defense in Georgia

The public defender crisis in Georgia has prompted new litigation.

A lawsuit filed Tuesday ... in Elbert County Superior Court, says hundreds of defendants unable to afford their own lawyers are not being provided representation as required under law. If lawyers for the defendants are not provided, their cases should be dismissed, the suit says.

Funny how "law and order" legislators are willing to enact new criminal offenses and harsh penalties, but are unwilling to fund indigent defense. How will the "law and order" lawmakers explain the potential dismissal of hundreds of criminal prosecutions caused by their irresponsible budgeting? [more ...]

Georgia legislators apparently don't care that indigent defendants who lack a lawyer are at a severe disadvantage when they try to bumble their way through the criminal justice system.

Those who get a public defender often obtain bond and get released from jail pending trial. They also are able to resolve their cases fairly quickly, [Gerry] Weber [a lawyer with the Southern Center for Human Rights, which filed suit on behalf of five defendants] said. Co-defendants who can’t get a public defender —- or another lawyer to represent them —- sit in jail for months at a time. Many appear at court hearings vulnerable and bewildered, the suit said.

The Sixth Amendment and Gideon v. Wainwright apparently have little meaning to the Georgia legislators who refuse to fund indigent defense adequately. Perhaps a lawsuit that threatens to release hundreds of alleged "bad guys" from their criminal prosecutions will get the legislature's attention.

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    Law and order (none / 0) (#1)
    by Jen M on Wed Apr 08, 2009 at 01:26:26 PM EST
    Doesn't mean the STATE has to follow the laws.

    Is Georgia the only state with a lot of defendants going without representation? Or is this just the tip of the iceberg?

    There are a number of reports of states (none / 0) (#2)
    by JSN on Wed Apr 08, 2009 at 03:46:04 PM EST
    where the public defenders have very high case loads because the legislature is unwilling to provide  an adequate staff. If the PD case load were to be capped what is happening in GA could happen elsewhere.

    Blew The Wad on Brian Nichols (none / 0) (#3)
    by Jade Jordan on Wed Apr 08, 2009 at 03:50:19 PM EST
    Brian Nichols offered to plead guilty and accept life without parole.  They refused his plea and spent several years of indigent defense fund money on his defense.  In spite of their efforts he received the same sentence.  They cannot get a refund of all the money they wasted.

    Well (none / 0) (#4)
    by Ga6thDem on Wed Apr 08, 2009 at 06:57:04 PM EST
    as someone who actually lives in said state, I can tell you that the legislators here are a joke. They can't ever seem to bring a budget in on time or much of anything else.

    Good News for Criminal Defendants in Georgia! (none / 0) (#5)
    by Jacob Freeze on Thu Apr 09, 2009 at 06:49:01 AM EST
    The bad news is that criminal defendants can't get a lawyer in Georgia. The good news is that if they manage to get bail, it's easy to flee the state.

    Former Sheriff's Deputy Derrick Yancey is charged with murdering his wife and a Guatemalan day laborer, 20-year-old Marcial Cax Puluc, in DeKalb County, Georgia. Yancey  was under house arrest with an ankle monitor awaiting trial, but when he removed the monitor and fled, it took more than 12 hours for the Sheriff's Department to find out that he was on the run.

    With this kind of head-start, Mr. Yancey could have driven the 600 miles from Atlanta to Detroit and crossed the Canadian border before anyone knew he was missing.

    Like all other public services in Georgia, both the DeKalb County Sheriff's Department and the system to monitor house arrest are seriously underfunded, but the ridiculous inadequacy of all aspects of the criminal "justice" system isn't usually on display with high-profile defendants like Yancey.

    It's also worth mentioning that if the Elbert County defendants who have remained unrepresented for as long as eight months somehow managed to escape to a blue state (Go north, boys!), they are already provided with an affirmative defense against charges of flight to avoid prosecution, as well as a basis for resisting extradition, since Elbert County is manifestly unable to offer them a fair trial.

    Money spent on Education (none / 0) (#6)
    by lilybart on Thu Apr 09, 2009 at 01:24:57 PM EST
    instead of more lawyers for poor clients.

    Can you imagine the impact of universal Head Start and truly affordable college and good charter schools???

    So many fewer poor people would need lawyers.

    This society needs a rethink.

    My company funds jails and charter schools. I told them that if they have too many good schools, they will hurt their jail business!