Indigent Defense Lawsuit Settlement Fall Short

Indigent Defense Lawsuit Settlement Fall Short

Hawkins Says Agreement in Indigent Defense Lawsuit Falls Short of Needed Statewide Solution

Howie Hawkins, the Green Party candidate for Governor, said that the agreement announced today in Hurrell-Harring v. State of New York falls far short of the statewide solution needed to guarantee adequate legal defense for poor New Yorkers in criminal trials.

The agreement reached between the ACLU and the state only covers the five counties in the lawsuit, including Hawkins' home county of Onondaga. The other counties are Ontario, Schuyler, Suffolk, and Washington.

"Justice will be better served in 5 counties but justice will continued to be denied in the rest of the state. Cuomo missed an opportunity to create a statewide remedy to this pressing problem," said Hawkins.

Hawkins wants the state to take over the public defense system in NY to ensure adequate funding for legal representation for poor New Yorkers. He wants the program to be headed by an independent public defense commission 

"Our criminal justice system discriminates against the poor while Wall Street banksters who defrauded and stole billions from homeowners and pensioners go free. 51 years after the Supreme Court ruled in Gideon that Americans have a constitutional right for legal representations, that right is still denied in New York," said Hawkins.

A report by the New York Civil Liberties Union showed that poor New Yorkers are often forced to appear in court without a lawyer or  with a revolving cast of overworked attorneys unfamiliar with their cases. Public defenders routinely have caseloads up to five times the recommended maximums. People who have not been convicted of a crime can await trial in jail for months when an attorney might have negotiated their release – and they lose their jobs, homes and even ailing partners and children as a result.

In Onondaga, which has more than 10,000 public defense cases a year, a third of the defendants never met with an attorney outside of court. A Syracuse Post-Standard review of assigned counsel lawyers' visits to jailed clients found that some of the lawyers had as many as 40 clients and visited the county jail only twice a month. Most defendants ended up pleading guilty to criminal charges.

Onondaga County prosecutors have 35 times more public funds for investigating their cases than the public defense lawyers have. In 99.7% of cases, investigators were not hired by public defense lawyers. Onondaga County has an assigned counsel system rather than a public defenders office. 

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