Thursday, November 15, 2012

Gideon Alert: New Mexico Voters Approve Independence of Public Defender

Among the recent election results, the passage of a Constitutional Amendment in New Mexico stands as a significant milestone in public defense reform.  The state is now in compliance with Principle #1 of the ABA Ten Principles of a Public Defense Delivery System – that the “public defense function, including the selection, funding, and payment of defense counsel, is independent.”

4:57 PM
Wednesday, May 9, 2012

U.S. Government Accountability Office Issues Report on Federal Funding for Indigent Defense

On May 9, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report assessing the ways in which the federal government has provided funding and other federal support to the states for indigent defense for the last seven years.

6:22 PM
Thursday, April 5, 2012

Gideon Alert: High Court Focuses on the Right to Effective Counsel in Plea Bargaining

The meaning of the Sixth Amendment’s promise of “effective counsel” has taken on additional dimensions over the past few weeks. On March 21, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court issued two decisions exploring the right to effective assistance of counsel during plea bargaining. In Missouri v.

10:46 AM
Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Gideon Alert: Prof. Lefstein points way to securing reasonable caseloads

“Our nation’s public defense systems in state courts, with few exceptions, should be a source of great embarrassment for all of us: judges, bar associations, lawyers, public officials, and all other citizens,” states former Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and former United States District Court Judge, William Sessions, in the foreword to Professor Norm Lefstein’s new book, Securing Reasonable Caseloads: Ethics and Law in Public Defense. The source of that embarrassment is the simple fact that, across much of the country, indigent defendants count themselves among one of several hundred who are all vying for the attention of a single lawyer -- a lawyer who lacks the time, resources, and independence to adequately advocate on their behalf.  States neglect to provide any type of meaningful supervision or accountability for the representation provided by these overworked public defense lawyers.  And, far too often these public attorneys are beholden to the trial judge or the county administration for their pay check, creating a direct conflict between the lawyer’s own personal financial well-being and his ethical duty to advocate solely on behalf of his client.  As Judge Sessions notes, “[t]his undisputed and sad state of affairs undermines, indeed vitiates, respect for the rule of law both here at home and abroad and makes a statement to the world about who we are as a people and a society, a statement that we must no longer tolerate.”

7:12 PM
Monday, December 12, 2011

Gideon Alert: State-sanctioned commission finds Pennsylvania defaulting on the Sixth Amendment

On December 8, 2011, Pennsylvania’s Joint State Government Commission issued its report, A Constitutional Default: Services to Indigent Criminal Defendants in Pennsylvania, concluding that public defense providers labor “under an obsolete, purely localized system,” and that the structure of services “impedes efforts to represent clients effectively.” Echoing the 2003 report of the Supreme Court Committee on Racial and Gender Bias in the Judicial System, the new report states:

3:46 PM
Monday, November 21, 2011

Gideon Alert: Prosecutorial interference in Utah

On November 15, 2011, the Emery County Progress reported that the county attorney -- the same office that prosecutes crimes in the county -- not only plays a major role in selecting opposing counsel, but also controls the budget of the local indigent defense system.  Though this column has reported on undue prosecutorial interference in Utah before (click here to read about Utah district attorneys involved in the selection and oversight of public defenders), this is the first documented instance in which there is a direct financial conflict of interest between the two adversarial components of the court system.  

4:58 PM