A recent publication (read it here) by the ACLU calls into question the public defender system, or lack thereof, for the indigent defendant in Michigan. The Michigan Supreme Court has long struggled with how to administer the system and has settled on allowing each jurisdiction to develop its own system, requiring only that the jurisdiction submit a plan of how it will appoint counsel for an indigent defendant. The result is a mishmash ranging by district and county from hiring the private firm that submits the lowest bid to do all appointments to having appointed counsel for a day to having attorneys sit in the courtroom and wait for their name to be called. These systems are questionable at best when used to defend low-level misdemeanors and they are entirely inadequate when an indigent defendant is charged with a crime the conviction of which could result in spending the remainder of one’s life in prison. The right to counsel when charged with a crime is part of the Bill of Rights just like your right to free speech, to bear arms, and choose your religion. Unfortunately the courts have eroded this right to such an extent that all that is required to represent an indigent defendant at trial now is a “pulse and a bar card” as we put it in our office.
Having “inherited” an appellate case in which the trial and appellate counsel were inadequate at best, and that resulted in a life sentence without parole for our client who was a juvenile at the time the crime was committed, I tend to agree with the ACLU on this one (I don’t always, they did side with the Westboro Baptist Church after all). As a practical matter, the ten stories in the publication have cost taxpayers millions of dollars in incarceration costs and wrongful conviction settlements. The pamphlet is worth a browse; let us know where you fall on the issue.
You can find the whole booklet at www.aclu.org/files/assets/MI_failedjustice_bookletsm.pdf