County Defender System

Gideon Alert: State-sanctioned commission finds Pennsylvania defaulting on the Sixth Amendment

BY David Carroll on Monday, December 12, 2011 at 2:46 PM

On December 8, 2011, Pennsylvania’s Joint State Government Commission issued its report, A Constitutional Default: Services to Indigent Criminal Defendants in Pennsylvania, concluding that public defense providers labor “under an obsolete, purely localized system,” and that the structure of services “impedes efforts to represent clients effectively.” Echoing the 2003 report of the Supreme Court Committee on Racial and Gender Bias in the Judicial System, the new report states:

Final report of the Pennsylvania Joint State Government Commission's Task Force and Advisory Committee on Services to Indigent Criminal Defendants: "While recognizing the difficult fiscal environment the Commonwealth faces currently, the advisory committee urges the General Assembly to perform its duties under the U.S. Constitution and as a civilized society by finally addressing the deficiencies that undermine its indigent criminal defense system by reforming the system to comply with national standards."

Author/Organization: Pennsylvania Joint State Government Commission
Publication Date: 12/06/2011

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Gideon Alert: Prosecutorial interference in Utah

BY David Carroll on Monday, November 21, 2011 at 3:58 PM

On November 15, 2011, the Emery County Progress reported that the county attorney -- the same office that prosecutes crimes in the county -- not only plays a major role in selecting opposing counsel, but also controls the budget of the local indigent defense system.  Though this column has reported on undue prosecutorial interference in Utah before (click here to read about Utah district attorneys involved in the selection and oversight of public defenders), this is the first documented instance in which there is a direct financial conflict of interest between the two adversarial components of the court system.  

Utah Court finds partially indigent have right to public funds for their defense

BY Jon Mosher on Thursday, October 20, 2011 at 12:21 PM

On October 17, 2011 the Salt Lake Tribune highlighted the potential impact of a recent Utah Supreme Court decision on county indigent defense budgets. In State v. Parduhn, the Court held: “local governments are statutorily required to provide an indigent defendant with funding for a necessary defense resource, even when the defendant is represented by private counsel.” 

Gideon Alert: Pittsburgh symptomatic of Pennsylvania’s right to counsel problems

BY David Carroll on Monday, October 17, 2011 at 11:38 AM

"[D]ysfunctional family life is rarely observed by individual family members, who are so entrenched in the process that they cannot really see it for what it is." Thus concludes Allegheny County Office of the Public Defender Assessment, a report by the Institute for Law & Policy Planning (L&PP). The study, commissioned by Allegheny County (Pittsburgh), explains why it is that public defense attorneys within deficient systems cannot understand the depth and breadth of the on-going, chronic right to counsel problems in their own jurisdiction.  Because of that, public defense attorneys often cannot fix their own systemic problems.  The L&PP report remained hidden from public view for over two years and only came to light through the committed effort of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania (ACLU-PA) to get it released under Pennsylvania’s freedom of information laws.

 Fifteen years after filing a class action lawsuit alleging grossly inadequate and unconstitutional representation for clients of the Allegheny County Office of the Public Defender (“OPD”), the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania released a report today entitled A Job Left Undone: Allegheny County’s Fork in the Road, which describes ongoing, severe systemic problems with the OPD and calls upon county and court leaders and the county executive candidates to make a commitment to fix the agency. The report also reveals that county officials have been aware of the deplorable state of the OPD since at least late 2008, when a secret study they commissioned noted grave concerns about the OPD’s management and operations, yet officials took virtually no action to rectify the problems.

Author/Organization: American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania (ACLU-PA)
Publication Date: 10/17/2011

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 The criminal justice system in Pennsylvania is finely tuned and balanced and almost always delivers reliable results. However, no such system, much less our own, will achieve perfection in its exercise. Due process does not require that every conceivable step at whatever cost be taken to eliminate the possibility of convicting an innocent person. Even so, the system cannot routinely accept the conviction of an innocent person without being challenged to consider measures to reduce the likelihood of error and grant redress to victims of these errors. Accepting this challenge as fully and as reasonably as we can further strengthens public confidence in the integrity of our criminal investigations and convictions.

Author/Organization: Pennsylvania Joint State Government Commission
Publication Date: 09/15/2011

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A 1995 evaluation of the Allegheny County (Pittsburgh) PA public defender office.

Author/Organization: The Spangenberg Group
Publication Date: 11/1995

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There are more than 40,000 children involved in delinquency proceedings in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Since 1972, state law has provided that each of these children is entitled to an attorney at every stage of the delinquency process. Despite this legal mandate, there are serious deficiencies in the delivery of indigent defense to accused and adjudicated youth. The availability and quality of defense representation varies widely across the Commonwealth. In failing to render effective advocacy, a system cannot protect individual rights, provide rehabilitation, or effectively hold youth accountable for their actions.

Author/Organization: American Bar Association Juvenile Justice Center
Publication Date: 10/2003

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 An Analysis of Problems at the Allegheny County Office of the Public Defender that Cause Systemic Violations of Clients’ Constitutional Right to Adequate Representation

Author/Organization: American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania (ACLU-PA)
Publication Date: 10/2011

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