Tag: indigent defense
A hearing was held yesterday on sequester cuts to defender services. Funding for federal defender services is quickly becoming a constitutional crisis. Federal defender offices are facing closure, federal courts are considering doing away with juries in civil cases, fees for appointed counsel are being delayed, and funding is being slashed for probation and pre-trial services. The Judiciary has requested emergency funding, and Congress has not acted on it. Here is the statement of Hon. Julia S. Gibbons, Chair of the Committee on the Budget of the Judicial Conference of the United States.
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Tomorrow and Friday, the Department of Justice is holding a symposium on indigent defense, Looking Back, Looking Forward, 2000-2010. Here is the agenda. (pdf). It really is well-rounded, and includes participants from the defense and judiciary as well as prosecution.
Attorney General Eric Holder and other officials from the Department of Justice will convene a symposium about Indigent Defense on Thursday, February 18, 2010, and Friday, February 19, 2010, with representatives from the adult and juvenile indigent defense community, including defenders, key policymakers, and practitioners from across the country.
Attorney General Eric Holder will give the keynote address. It's taking place at the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. and media passes are available.
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."
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The Constitution Project has issued the most comprehensive report in 30 years on the constitutional right to counsel.
Excessive caseloads, inadequate funding, ethical breaches, politicization of the public defender system, lack of timely appointment of counsel or no appointment at all are depriving the poor of the constitutional right to representation in criminal and juvenile cases. This is the conclusion of a report released today by the Constitution Project’s bipartisan National Right to Counsel Committee. The report, Justice Denied: America’s Continuing Neglect of Our Constitutional Right to Counsel, outlines the crisis in the country’s public defense system and offers 22 recommendations to state and federal officials to fix it.
The report includes recommendations for adequate funding, independent oversight, and standards for attorney competence, compensation, and workload.
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In the final ruling of the day, the Court, over two Justices’ partial dissents, ruled that a 2005 federal law providing free defense lawyers for individuals facing a possible death sentence allows such a lawyer to seek clemency for the client from state officials. Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the majority in Harbison v. Bell (07-8521). Justice Scalia filed a partial dissent, joined by Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr.
The opinion is here (pdf.)[More...]
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Former Vice President Walter Mondale has an op-ed in the Washington Post decrying the erosion of Gideon v. Wainwright, the landmark Supreme Court decision of 45 years ago promising counsel to indigent defendants in criminal cases.
A report published by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School last fall, "Eligible for Justice," found that if Gideon were to face criminal charges in Florida today, he might well be denied a public defender.
From Florida to Minnesota to New Hampshire and Virginia, the right is in jeopardy because eligiblility requirements are too stringent. Mondale also calls for the right to counsel to be extended to indigent civil litigants in some instances...such as when faced with losing their home.
More on Gideon here.
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The New York Times reports that public defenders in seven states are refusing to accept new cases or have filed lawsuits due to overburdened case loads which prevent them from providing effective assistance of counsel.
Public defenders are notoriously overworked, and their turnover is high and their pay low. But now, in the most open revolt by public defenders in memory, many of the government-appointed lawyers say that state budget cuts and rising caseloads have pushed them to the breaking point.
The caseload in Miami-Dade, Florida:
Over the last three years, the average number of felony cases handled by each lawyer in a year has climbed to close to 500, from 367, officials said, and caseloads for lawyers assigned to misdemeanor cases have risen to 2,225, from 1,380.
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