Posted on December 3rd, 2009 No comments
On Tuesday, December 1, 2009, the Detroit Free Press ran an editorial entitled Public Defense Must be Upgraded. The editorial opens, “Scandalously low pay. No standards. That’s the world of court-appointed attorneys in Michigan, and it’s a sham of the constitutional right to adequate legal counsel.” The article cites an interesting statistic that Michigan ranks “44th among the 50 states in spending — lower than Alabama.”
A House subcommittee and the Michigan Campaign for Justice looked at the issue and recommended adequate state funding and a state commission to oversee an office of public defense that would provide training and enforce uniform and reasonable standards. The editorial states that a package of bills will be introduced in the State House this month to address indigent defense. I hope indigent defense for juvenile delinquents, Lawyer-Guardian Ad Litems and respondents in child protection proceedings are included in the legislation.
With the budget woes in Lansing, it is natural to be skeptical that the State would take any action to increase the amount the it spends on anything, let alone indigent defense. However, there are a number of signs pointing to the fact that this may not be something Michigan can continue to ignore.
In 2008, the National Legal Aid and Defender Association released the findings of a study of Michigan’s public defense system, giving it failing grades in the areas of system independence, funding and structure; the method of screening for a client’s eligibility for public defense services; confidentiality; attorney availability, competency, consistency, training and quality; equality of resources among prosecutors and public defenders in a case; and a public defender’s advocacy for his or her client.
In March, the U.S. House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, a subcommittee within the House Committee on the Judiciary, held hearings to examine the extensive problems with how the State of Michigan ensures each resident’s 6th Amendment right to counsel.
In August, the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin released a report (From Time Out to Hard Time) that found Michigan to be among the states with the most problematic theoretical and actual outcomes for young children who commit serious crimes along with Florida, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina. The report points out that children as young as 7 could receive a sentence of life without parole in Michigan.
Put simply, Michigan’s public defense system is getting a black eye nationally and this may provide the proper motivation for the legislature to act. Although, I must admit, it is going to be difficult to overcome public opinion against spending money defending people accused of committing crimes or abusing or neglecting their children. Naturally, I will be following this issue and posting any updates here.
Posted on December 3rd, 2009 No comments
When I started this blog in March, my original intent was to allow discussion on each case, topic or article posted. The problem was spam. Spammers often flood the comment sections of blogs with advertising and other clutter using little computer programs that do nothing but search the internet to put advertising and other junk in posts on websites. I thought the best way to avoid spam was to have everyone who wants to leave a comment become a registered user. Sadly, I did not have the time to set up a registration page and all of the infrastructure for that, so the comment feature remained on the back burner. That is, until now. I have opened up the comment feature so anyone can post a comment. To verify that you are a real human being, you will be asked to answer an easy math problem (don’t worry, it’s real easy) before you can upload your post.
It is my hope that by opening up the site to comments we can create a dialogue that will enhance our understanding of the law. Comments and posts will be included in the search engine, so if you are looking for an answer on a particular question that I have not addressed in a post, you may find it in the comments. You can also use the comments to raise any questions you may have about a particular post and receive an answer from me or other readers. Comments can be used to spark debate. I hope this feature enhances your use of the site.