High Court Will Hear Inmate’s Challenge to Lawyer’s Admission of His Guilt

lady justice figure

By Christopher Zoukis During its new term started in October, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case of McCoy v. Louisiana, which asks whether a Death Row inmate can appeal a death sentence because his lawyer, over the inmate’s strenuous objections, admitted his client’s guilt during his trial. Robert…

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PA Supreme Court says criminal defendants can sue underfunded public defender’s offices

By Christopher Zoukis The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has taken the bold step of finding a new cause of action that would allow indigent criminal defendants to prospectively sue a county for failing to adequately fund and operate a public defender’s office. The right to the assistance of competent counsel in…

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No Speedy Trial Rights for Prisoners in Administrative Segregation

By Christopher Zoukis The Eighth Circuit ruled on September 15, 2016, in a per curiam opinion, that the Sixth Amendment’s right to a speedy trial is essentially not applicable to prisoners held in administrative segregation pending criminal charges. Rashad A. Wearing was incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution in Forrest…

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Reading Death Row Prisoner’s Legal Mail States Sixth Amendment Claim

By David Reutter The Ninth Circuit has held that a prison guard’s act of reading a prisoner’s legal mail – not merely inspecting or scanning it – constitutes a Sixth Amendment violation. The Court of Appeals reversed a district court’s order dismissing, at the screening stage, a pro se civil…

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States Create Special Commissions to Study Flat-Fee Indigent Defense

By Joe Watson

Some states may soon be doing more to guarantee the Sixth Amendment right to counsel for indigent criminal defend-ants.

Special commissions have been convened in Nevada, Idaho, Michigan and Pennsylvania to investigate how flat-fee contracts with private defense attorneys are failing defendants who can’t afford to hire counsel. Meanwhile, some courts are weighing whether the practice of flat-fee indigent defense is unconstitutional.

According to Stateline, the news service of The Pew Center on the States, more than a dozen states use flat-fee contract attorneys to represent indigent defendants in order to save money and provide relief to swamped public defenders’ offices. However, critics argue that such “contract counsel” tend to be young, inexperienced, penurious and overwhelmed by their own caseloads; thus, the supposed savings effectively subsidize backlogged appellate courts and state prisons filled with poorly-represented defendants.

“This type of contract creates a direct financial conflict of interest between the attorney and the client,” said David Carroll, research director at the National Legal Aid and Defender Association. “Because the lawyer will be paid the same amount, no matter how much or how little he works on each case, it is in the lawyer’s personal interest to devote as little time as possible to each appointed case.”

In Jackson County, Michigan, for example, contract attorneys are paid a paltry $600 flat fee per case to defend indigent clients accused of second-degree and Class A through D felonies, and only $350 per case for lesser felonies. In Lyon County, Nevada, 200 indigent defense felony cases and 400 misdemeanor cases were contracted out to a first-year lawyer who had passed his bar exam only a few weeks earlier.

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Public Defenders Falter Under Budgetary Constraints: Is Gideon No Longer Absolute?

By Christopher Zoukis In the last week, several intriguing articles and editorials have been published concerning the Supreme Court’s landmark 1963 decision in Gideon v. Wainwright and the fundamental Sixth Amendment right to counsel in criminal proceedings.  The New York Times ran the story “The Right to Counsel: Badly Battered…

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