House Judiciary Hearing on Indigent Defense

The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security is holding a hearing today titled "Indigent Representation: A Growing National Crisis."

Among the witnesses: Alan J. Crotzer, who was wrongfully convicted and spent over 24 years in prison before being exonerated by DNA evidence.

Other witnesses testifying about the critical need to reform our indigent defense system are Rhoda Billings, former Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court and Robert M.A. Johnson, district attorney for Anoka County, Minnesota. DA Johnson makes the valid point:

"As a prosecutor, it helps me to do my job when opposing counsel is both provided and adequately up-to-speed on the case before the judge. The validity of any verdict relies on high-quality legal representation for both parties to the case."


Put another way, you cannot trust in the integrity of the verdict if the defendant did not receive a fair trial. Effective assistance of counsel is guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment. It's too bad the stimulus package which provided billions for law enforcement provided nothing for indigent defense.

The Constitution Project's National Right to Counsel Committee recently released "Justice Denied: America's Continuing Neglect of Our Constitutional Right to Counsel," the most comprehensive report on indigent defense in 30 years. The report makes 22 recommendations for much-needed reform to indigent defense systems nationwide.

In related news, Attorney General Eric Holder has reversed an executive order of the Bush Administration preventing immigrants facing deportation proceedings from appealing on grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel:

“The integrity of immigration proceedings depends in part on the ability to assert claims of ineffective assistance of counsel,” Mr. Holder said in a statement accompanying the order, “and the Department of Justice’s rule making in this area will be fair, it will be transparent, and it will be guided by our commitment to the rule of law.”

The ACLU praised Holder's action and said it's a good beginning:

Lee Gelernt, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, applauded the overall decision as a good beginning to restoring the legal rights of immigrants, though he criticized Mr. Holder for applying it only to immigration judges and not Justice Department lawyers.

< The Ignorant Media And "Advocacy" From The Bench | R.I.P. David Carradine >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft

  • Display: Sort:
    Alabama doesn't even have a (none / 0) (#1)
    by jeffinalabama on Thu Jun 04, 2009 at 12:26:50 PM EST
    formalized public defender office or agency. The defenses are contracted out by county (or district, i think IANAL). A friend from grad school, now a lawyer, had a contract for a year, but wasn't renewed afterwards. Apparently, he actually defended his assignments, and that didn't make him any friends.

    Indigents in Alabama also may get a brand-new lawyer assigned from the pro bono pool... it is a mess.

    "Indigent Defense" (none / 0) (#2)
    by NYShooter on Thu Jun 04, 2009 at 01:32:55 PM EST
    Boy, there's an oxymoron, if I ever heard one.

    As someone who isn't a lawyer, (none / 0) (#3)
    by Makarov on Thu Jun 04, 2009 at 02:35:53 PM EST
    it's always puzzled me that prosecutors have seemingly unlimited budgets to try alleged criminals. Contrast that with what is usually very limited budgets for public defenders when it comes to investigation, testing, and expert testimony.

    Has the Supreme Court ever addressed such inequities in a decision?

    How many of Chimpy's (none / 0) (#4)
    by jondee on Thu Jun 04, 2009 at 03:41:45 PM EST
    injectees when he was Texas Governor were indigent?

    LOL!!! (none / 0) (#5)
    by NYShooter on Thu Jun 04, 2009 at 04:47:06 PM EST
    "Has the Supreme Court ever addressed such inequities in a decision?"

    Poor Makarov.....stumbled into the wrong blog site.

    Comedy Central is two blocks up, then take a left.