Improving Counsel for Indigent Defendants
An editorial in yesterday’s Detroit News points to the need to strengthen assistance of counsel in criminal cases for indigent defendants in Michigan.
Michigan’s checkerboard public defense system relies on county-level financing. Its effectiveness varies with each county’s financial assets. Compelling evidence of what’s wrong with this setup comes from a new report detailing 13 miscarriages of justice, each mostly the result of an indigent defendant’s lousy lawyers.
Innocence Project client Eddie Joe Lloyd served nearly two decades behind bars for a murder he did not commit before DNA testing proved his innocence. Lloyd was represented before trialby a court-appointed attorney who received $150 for pre-trial preparation and investigation. This attorney never contested Lloyd’s confession, which was made while he was hospitalized for a thought and mood disorder, according to The News.
Ineffective assistance of counsel is not only unjust, but also costly. Lloyd died in 2004, but his estate received a $4 million settlement from Detroit and Wayne County for his wrongful conviction. The editorial argues that Michigan could improve the way poor defendants are represented by following Macomb County’s system, which restricts complex murder cases to veteran lawyers. Macomb County also appoints attorneys with mid-level experience to cases in which a defendant can receive between five and 20 years in prison.
Macomb Circuit Judge David Viviano said that attorneys are assigned on a rotating basis and are informally reviewed by the judges. If the judges are not satisfied with a lawyer’s performance, the list can be changed.
But ultimately, it’s up to the state to set high standards to assure that all indigent defendants are adequately defended and that their attorneys have the necessary resources. Lawmakers and Gov. Rick Snyder should set that as a goal to attain as state revenues improve.
Read the Innocence Project Report:
Court Findings of Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
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